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The  Abbey  of  St.  Albans 


The  Abbey  of  St.  Albans 

from    1300   to  the  Dissolution 
of  the   Monasteries 

191 1 








Introductory          . .             . .             . .             . .             . .  3 

I.     The  Revival  within  the  Abbey  during  the  14TH 

Century               . .             . .             . .             , .  11 

II.    The  Necessity  for  Dissolution             . .             . .  35 

(A)  Sketch  of  the  Economic  History,  1300-1539  36 

(B)  Decay  of  the  Monastic  Spirit  in  the  15TH 

Century        . .            . .            . .            . .  47 

Appendix.      The  Account  of  William  Wallingford 
IN  the   'Lives   and    Benefactions  of  the 

Later  Abbots'    ..                           ..            ..  73 

List  of  the  Abbots  of  St.  Albans  from  1300  to  1539  75 

A  List  of  the  Chief  Authorities  .  .             . .             . .  76 



In  the  later  Middle  Ages  the  Abbey  of  St.  Albans 
was  the  most  brilliant,  though  by  no  means  the 
wealthiest/  of  the  English  monasteries.  There  was 
ample  reason  for  this  pre-eminence.  Proximity  to 
London  kept  its  members  abreast  of  the  times  and 
freed  them  from  the  stain  of  provincialism,  and  its 
position  on  the  Great  North  Road  ensured  as  its 
frequent  guests  the  greatest  men  in  the  kingdom. 
Its  hospitality  became  proverbial,  and  Matthew  Paris 
records  that  there  was  room  in  the  monastic  stables 
for  three  hundred  horses  at  one  time.  Always,  too, 
there  was  the  glamour  of  literary  greatness  as  well 
as  its  association  with  St.  Alban,-  England's  proto- 
martyr,  whose  genuine  relics  by  universal  consent 
it  was  admitted  to  possess.  Besides  these  special 
traits  the  Abbey  bore  the  usual  insignia  of  exempt 
houses — royal  foundation,  a  wide  franchise  with 
episcopal  jurisdiction,  and  a  place  for  its  abbot 
among  the  Lords  in  Parliament.  The  homage  of 
some  twelve  daughter  houses  or  cells,  while  not 
increasing  its  material  prosperity,  added  considerably 
to  its  dignity. 

'  In  view  of  the  fact  that  the  Abbey  contained  sixty  monks, 
St.  Albans  was  relatively  slenderly  endowed.     Cf.  below,  p.  23. 

-  The  shrines  of  St.  Osyth  and  St.  Amphibalus,  also  at  St. 
Albans,  were  scarcely  less  famous. 

4  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

The   growth   of  the   St.    Albans   legend   is   proof 
that  it  was  no  unconscious  greatness  the  members 

Growth  of    ^^joy^d-     I^  the  eleventh  century,  when 

St.  Albans  the  monastery  had  become  '  the  school 
"^  '  of  religious  observance  for  all  England  ' 
arose  the  idea  of  a  miraculous  origin;  it  received 
final  consecration  in  the  narrative  of  Matthew  Paris. 
Henceforth,  it  was  sober  history  that  King  Offa 
founded  the  Abbey  on  August  ist,  793,  when  the 
ground  opened  miraculously,  revealing  the  body  of 
the  martyr  himself  with  a  golden  band  around  his 
forehead  inscribed  with  his  name.  From  this  point 
its  history  was  made  to  run  on  without  a  break;  the 
names  of  successive  abbots  were  given  with  the  dates 
of  their  reigns,  and  the  acquisition  of  existing  pos- 
sessions attributed  to  various  of  them  by  a  method 
hidden  from  us.  From  a  great  deal  of  tradition 
little  more  can  be  deduced  than  that  the  Abbey  was 
of  royal  foundation  and  exempt  from  episcopal  juris- 
diction, that  it  was  early  endowed  with  a  wide 
franchise,  and,  by  analogy,  that  morals  and  discipline 
would  be  by  no  means  strict  in  Anglo-Saxon  times. 

With  the  advent  of  the  Norman  Conquest  we  are 
on  surer  ground.     Under  Abbot  Paul  (1077 — 1097) 
the  Abbey  was  purged  of  the  abuses  of  the  Anglo- 
Saxon  period  and  a  stricter  discipline  en- 

of  the         forced,    although    only    by    the    loss    of 

onques .   gJ-gJ^-^p^JQJ^  from  episcopal  control.       The 

monastery  was  now  rebuilt  on  a  more  magnificent 

scale,  and  for  nearly  two  centuries  St.  Albans  was 

a  model  house.       Under  the  saintly  John  de  Cella 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  S 

(1195 — 1214),  a  Stern  ascetic,  the  House  perhaps 
reached  its  zenith.  At  no  other  time  were  feasts  and 
vigils  so  strictly  observed  by  the  monks,  who  for 
fifteen  years  gave  up  drinking  wine  in  order  that  the 
refectory  and  dormitory,  then  ruinous,  might  be 
rebuilt.  During  the  Norman  period  St.  Albans  had 
been  endowed  by  many  gifts  of  manors.  On  some 
of  these  cells  were  founded,^  but  most  of  them  were 
simply  absorbed  into  the  monastic  estates,  and  of 
course  brought  within  the  Abbot's  jurisdiction.  The 
effect  of  this  territorial  enrichment  of  the  monas- 
tery was  twofold.  First,  it  tended  to  subordinate 
religious  to  secular  functions :  the  Abbot  became 
primarily  a  man  of  business  absorbed  in  the  adminis- 
tration of  the  estates.  Secondly,  it  attracted  the 
covetous  glances  of  needy  kings  and  popes.  At  the 
very  commencement  of  the  thirteenth  century  the 
Abbot  had  to  face  a  reorganised  Papacy  intent  upon 
obtaining  funds  for  the  realisation  of  its  strong 
political  ambitions.  The  Abbey  had  scarcely  escaped 
the  jurisdiction  of  the  Bishop  of  Lincoln^  (1163)  when 
it  fell  under  stricter  subjection  to  Pope  Innocent  III. 
For  the  future  each  abbot  was  to  go  in  person  to 
Rome  to  secure  confirmation  of  his  election,  that  is 
to  say  to  be  mulcted  in  a  vast  sum  of  money. ^     In 

^  About  twelve  cells  were  founded  ;  the  most  important  being 
Tynemouth  and  Wymondham,  in  Northumberland  and  Norfolk 

^  Gesta  Abbatum  I,  p.   489. 

^  Gesta  Abbatum  I,  p.  307  ;  II,  p.  3.  Still  more  oppressive  was 
the  enactment  of  a  General  Lateran  Council  under  Innocent  IV, 
by  which  the  Abbot  had  to  visit  Rome,  either  in  person  or  by 
proxy,  once  every  three  years.  The  cost  of  such  journeys  and 
the  extortion  of  the  Holy  See  were  regarded  as  a  heavy  grievance. 

6  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

a  lesser  degree  the  monastery  was  menaced  by  the 
Crown.  Every  vacancy  put  the  convent  at  the  mercy 
of  the  King's  escheator,  who  in  practice  could,  and 
often  did,  exact  far  more  than  the  sums  to  which  he 
was  entitled.  Indeed,  both  kings  and  popes  were 
coming  to  regard  the  Abbey  as  a  sure  source  of 
wealth  in  any  emergency,  and  they  did  not  scruple 
to  multiply  excuses  for  continual  exactions.^  These 
dangers  of  papal  and  kingly  oppression  were  self- 
evident,  but  in  the  gradual  disintegration  of  feudal 
society  lay  a  more  subtle  peril.  The  monastery's 
failure  to  adapt  itself  to  the  new  system  of  relation- 
ships which  were  springing  up  on  lay  estates  brought 
upon  it  the  further  misfortune  of  unpopularity. 

The  disfavour  incurred  by  the  attempt  to  retain  the 

manorial  system  was  increased  when  the  organisation 

itself  began  to  show  signs  of  decay.     The  decline 

j^  ^^  of  religious  fervour  was  followed  by  a 

of  the  gradual  relaxation  of  monastic  discipline, 

i>.    ^^^    comparative    luxury    invaded    the 

cloister.     After  the  death  of  John  of  Berkhamstead 

in   1301   the  extent  of  the  falling  off  began  to  be 

apparent.     For  the  next  generation  the  convent  was 

in  an  unhealthy  condition.     But  though  weakened, 

the  organisation  was  far  from  being  destroyed.     At 

times  like  this  the  traditional  routine  was  invaluable. 

The  writing  of  history,  for  instance,  was  continued, 

'  Istequoque  Abbas,' says  the  chronicler  {Gesta  Abbatum  I,  p.  312), 
referring  to  Abbot  John  of  Hertford  (elected  1235),  '  in  novitate  sua 
multis  exactionibus  fatigabatur  et  expensis,  sed  prae  omnibus 
Romanorum  oppressionibus  novis  et  inauditis  coepit  molestari. ' 
^  See  for  example,  Gesta  Abbatum  I,  p.  397. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  7 

and  the  period  is  still  known  to  us  by  the  works 
of  John  de  Trokelowe  and  Henry  de  Blaneford. 
contemporary  chroniclers. 

At  this  point  our  subject  begins.  The  period  may 
be  broken  up  into  two  parts,  and  a  line  of  division 
is  supplied  by  the  year  1396,  in  which  Abbot  Thomas 
de  la  Mare  died.  Taking  our  stand,  first  at  1396, 
and  then  at  the  Dissolution  of  the  Monasteries,  we 
shall  look  back  over  the  two  periods  under  review 
and  summarize  the  chief  tendencies  by  which  they 
are  marked.^ 

'  The  economic  history  of  the  Abbey  cannot  fairly  be  so 
divided,  and  will  therefore  be  treated  in  Section  II  from  1300 — 

The  Revival  within  the  Abbey  during 
the  14th  Century 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 


The  Revival  within  the  Abbey  during 
the  14th  Century. 

The  '  fourteenth  century  revival  '  is  perhaps  too 
dignified  a  name  for  the  feeble  efforts  at  reformation 
in  the  majority  of  English  monasteries.  Most 
houses  failed  utterly  to  arrest  the  decay  that  had  set 
in  during  the  thirteenth  century,  and  for  the  rest  of 
their  existence  underwent  a  slow  internal  dissolution 
which  was  merely  consummated  by  the  measures  of 
Henry  VIII.  To  this  rule  there  were  exceptions. 
At  Bury  St.  Edmunds,^  for  instance,  while  John 
Tymworth  was  abbot  (1379 — 1390),  there  was  a 
marked  revival  accompanied  by  a  little  outburst  of 
chronicle  writing.  More  important  was  the  recovery 
of  St.  Albans,  where  a  conscious  effort  towards 
reform  is  the  main  thread  of  its  history.  The  reigns 
of  four  abbots  which  cover  the  first  half  of  the 
century  witnessed  the  restoration  of  discipline :  the 
long  abbacy  of  Thomas  de  la  Mare  (1349 — 1396)  was 
devoted  to  the  repair  of  the  Abbey  finances,  which 
had  been  depleted  by  the  frequent  vacancies.  The 
steps  by  which  first  the  rule,  and  then  the  finances, 

^  Mems.  of  St.  Edmundsbury.     Arnold.     Vol.  in,  passim. 

12  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

were  strengthened  indicate  considerable  continuity  of 
reforming  purpose  in  successive  abbots. 

The  regulations  issued  by  John  de  Maryns^  (1302 — 
1308)  for  the  reform  of  the  convent  and  cells  reveal 
the  extent  of  the  decay.       The  rule  of  silence,   it 

„  appears,    had    been    all    but    forgotten; 

of  the  swearing     had     grown     common,     and 

monks,  forgetful  of  their  vow  of  poverty, 
were  found  to  possess  private  property.  In  the  cells 
the  state  of  affairs  was  even  more  deplorable. 
Brethren  were  known  to  insult  the  priors,  whose 
authority  had  grown  too  weak  to  ensure  adequate 
punishment  of  offenders.  Reference  is  made  to  the 
existence  of  immorality  in  the  convent.  It  was 
necessary  to  prohibit  brethren  from  intercourse  with 
women,  from  wandering  about  singly,  and  from 
drinking  in  the  town.  The  possession  of  greyhounds 
for  hunting  was  also  forbidden. 

Such  was  the  condition  of  the  convent  and  cells 
in  the  first  years  of  the  century.  Abbot  Maryns, 
though  willing  and  anxious  to  carry  out  the  neces- 
sary reformation,  was  not  strong  enough  to  enforce 
his  will  upon  the  monks.  Moreover,  the  penalties 
prescribed  for  offences  in  his  regulations  were  wholly 
inadequate,  and  to  this  must  be  attributed  the  persis- 
tence of  the  evils  which  they  were  intended  to  cure. 

The  decline  of  discipline  during  the  last  years  of 
the  thirteenth  century  had  been  accompanied  by  a 
loosening  of  the  authority  of  the  mother  abbey  over 
its  cells.     It  appears  that  some  of  them  were  not 

^  Gcsia  Abbatuni  II,  p.  95. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  13 

prepared  to  admit  even  a  nominal  dependence  on  the 
abbot.  Making  as  its  pretext  the  huge  exactions  of 
Hugh  of  Eversdon  (Maryns'  successor),  the  cell  of 
Binham/  led  by  its  Prior,  William  Somerton,  and 
supported  by  the  local  gentry,  broke  into  open  revolt. 
A  long  contest  followed,  with  appeals  to  both  King 
and  Pope,  but  in  the  end  the  abbot  was  successful. 
The  rebellious  priory  was  brought  back  to  its  alle- 
giance, and  Hugh  of  Eversdon  proceeded  systemati- 
cally to  extract  formal  submissions  from  the  several 
cells.  A  grave  feature  of  the  quarrel  with  Binham 
was  the  influence  exerted  by  Thomas  of  Lancaster, 
Sir  Hugh  Despenser,  and  various  notables  who  con- 
trived more  than  once  to  force  the  hand  of  the  abbot. 
The  interference  of  laymen  in  the  affairs  of  the 
monastery  is  a  sure  sign  of  its  weakness. 

Abbot  Hugh  was  a  poor  creature  to  govern  so 
great  a  House.  Avaricious,  vain,  extortionate,  a 
pampered  favourite  of  Edward  H,  he  oppressed  the 
cells  and  exasperated  the  townsmen.  On  his  death 
in  1327  the  latter  broke  into  revolt.  The  whole  of 
England  was  at  this  time  in  a  state  of  anarchy  and 
wretchedness  only  too  clearly  reflected  in  the  con- 
dition of  St.  Albans.  The  House  was  desperately 
poor  and  burdened  with  debt,  and  the  moral  condi- 
tion of  the  monks  is  admitted  by  the  chronicler  to 
have  been  very  low.  Degeneracy,  in  fact,  had  gone 
to  greater  lengths  than  at  the  beginning  of  the  cen- 
tury.    The  Constitutions  of  Abbot  Wallingford^  deal 

'  Gesta  Abbatiim  II,  appendix,  p.  469. 
^  Gesta  Abbatum  II,  p.    130. 

14  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

with  the  most  elementary  rules  of  conduct  and 
morality,  the  frequent  breach  of  which  could  be  the 
only  reason  for  their  publication.  The  Abbot,  how- 
ever, was  a  saintly  man,  and  made  persistent  efforts 
to  correct  abuses.  In  a  formal  visitation  of  the  cells 
he  punished  severely  all  cases  of  incontinence,  and 
having  compiled  two  books  of  statutes,  did  his  best 
to  enforce  them.  The  monks,  unused  to  so  strict 
a  master,  grumbled  at  Wallingford's  severity,  but 
before  his  death  matters  had  begun  definitely  to 
mend.  In  his  later  years  he  even  had  leisure  to  turn 
his  attention  to  the  cells.  The  Priory  of  Redburn 
was  completely  re-organised,  and  the  government  of 
the  dependent  house  of  St.  Mary  de  Prez  systematised 
for  the  first  time. 

Michael  de  Mentmore  (1335 — 1349),  who  succeeded 
Richard  Wallingford  as  abbot,  continued  the  work 
of  reform  on  the  lines  laid  down  by  his  predecessor, 
devoting  much  attention  to  the  cells.  He  did  what 
he  could  to  make  the  life  of  the  leper  brethren  of 
St.  Julian  more  tolerable,  and  drew  up  a  new  rule 
for  the  nuns  of  Sopwell.  A  peculiar  interest  attaches 
to  the  rule  of  this  Michael  Mentmore.  His  local 
effort  towards  reform  came  into  contact  with  the 
wider  attempt  of  Pope  Benedict  XII  to  improve  the 
Benedictine  Order.  With  the  increasing  lethargy  of 
the  Black  Monks,  the  intervals  between  General 
Chapters  had  grown  greater  and  greater.  Bene- 
dict XII  abolished  the  two  provinces  into  which 
hitherto  the  English  Benedictines  had  been  divided 
and  revived  triennial  General  Chapters  meeting  at 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  15 

Northampton.  To  Abbot  Michael,  significantly 
enough,  the  Pope  entrusted  the  execution  of  these 
measures.  The  abbot  entered  heartily  into  the  work, 
exhorting  and  encouraging  individuals  and  actively 
helping  in  the  restoration  of  religion  in  places  where 
it  had  altogether  decayed. 

Thus  when  Abbot  Michael,  having  been  struck 
down  by  the  Black  Death,  was  succeeded  by  Thomas 

^„     ^,^         de  la  Mare,  the  foundations  of  reform 

1  he   Abbacy 

of  Thomas     had  been  laid.     It  fell  to  the  lot  of  the 
new  abbot  to  complete  and  adorn  the 
work  begun  by  his  predecessors. 

Thomas  de  la  Mare,  who  ruled  the  Abbey  for 
almost  fifty  years,  has  perhaps  left  a  deeper  mark 
on  the  history  of  St.  Albans  than  any  other  abbot. 
He  was  no  mere  political  prelate.  For  his  age  he 
was  what  would  be  called  a  good  man;  but  before 
all  things  he  was  an  able  administrator  and  a  stern 
though  just  ruler.  Indefatigable  in  upholding  the 
convent's  rights  against  every  outside  power,  he 
knew  no  compromise  in  his  exaction  of  full  obedience 
from  all  within  the  House.  To  his  biographer, 
credulity,  the  employment  of  unworthy  officers  and 
his  lavish  outlay  as  President  of  General  Chapters 
were  the  only  flaws  in  an  otherwise  perfect  character. 
No  censure  is  passed  upon  his  craftiness  in  evading 
the  Statute  of  Mortmain,  nor  are  certain  acts  of 
crude  revenge  adversely  commented  upon.  Besides 
supreme  ability,  he  certainly  possessed  an  exceptional 
personality,   and  towards  the  close  of  his  life  was 

fe  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

regarded  almost  as  a  saint  by  the  brethren.^  The 
greatest  of  the  later  abbots,  he  has  perhaps  suffered 
unduly  at  the  hands  of  his  editor,  who  conceived  of 
him  only  '  as  that  most  litigious  of  abbots  .  .  . 
Thomas  de  la  Mare.'^  His  tenants  do  not  appear  to 
have  looked  upon  him  as  a  tyrant.  The  orderly 
character  of  the  revolt  of  1381  at  St.  Albans  was  in 
marked  contrast  with  the  scenes  of  pillage  and 
murder  at  Bury  St.  Edmunds.  The  St.  Albans 
tenants  rose  to  assert  their  rights — the  men  of  Bury 
to  avenge  their  wrongs. 

Abbot  Thomas  displayed  an  astonishing  activity 
in  every  department  of  monastic  life.  The  church 
services  were  entirely  revised,  and  particular  care  was 
bestowed  upon  the  singing,  for  the  regulation  of 
which  the  Abbot  drew  up  a  new  ordinal.  A  series 
of  practical  reforms  followed;  in  monastery  and 
cells  the  discipline  was  more  strictly  enforced.  The 
general  raising  of  the  monastic  standard  was  exem- 
plified by  his  refusal  to  admit  illiterate  nuns  into  the 
house  of  St.  Mary  de  Prez,  and  by  his  careful 
provisions  regulating  the  duties  of  the  Benedictine 
students  at  Oxford.  At  first,  indeed,  the  rigidness 
of  his  discipline  caused  many  of  the  monks  to 
grumble,  and  some  even  to  secede.  But  his  method 
was  effective.  Before  long  the  Abbey  grew  famous, 
not  only  in  England,  but  on  the  Continent,  and 
monks  were  often  sent  to  St.  Albans  to  be  trained  in 
monastic  discipline  for  the  benefit  of  their  own 

'   Gesta  Abbatuvi  III,  pp.  396-423.     "   Gesta  Abbatum  III,  p.  x. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  17 

The  position  of  St.  Albans  as  the  premier  Bene- 
dictine house  was  recognised  by  the  election  of  the 
Abbot  as  president  of  the  successive  General 
Chapters  at  Northampton.  In  these  assemblies  De  la 
Mare  issued  a  comprehensive  series  of  constitutions 
on  the  discipline  of  the  Order.  Looking  to  the 
future  of  learning,  he  directed  every  abbot  and 
prior  to  maintain  at  Gloucester  HalP  (Oxford)  a 
number  of  students  proportionate  to  the  size  of  his 
house.  He  himself  supported  many  more  students 
than  the  number  of  his  monks  required.  Edward 
Ill's  commission  to  the  Abbot  to  visit  all  the  monas- 
teries in  the  King's  presentation  is  a  striking  tribute 
to  his  thoroughness.  A  visitation  of  Abbot  Thomas 
was  far  from  being  a  mere  formality,  and  shed  a 
valuable  sidelight  on  the  condition  of  many  a  great 
abbey.^  'In  them,'  says  the  chronicler,  'religion 
had  well-nigh  disappeared.'  The  proper  conduct  of 
the  monastic  rule  had  been  forgotten,  and  serious 
abuses  were  rife.  At  the  Abbeys  of  Eynsham, 
Abingdon  and  Battle,  De  la  Mare  worked  wonders  of 
reform;  at  Reading  he  composed  differences  between 
the  Abbot  and  the  monks  who  had  practically  risen 
in  rebellion;  at  Chester  he  took  the  extreme  step  of 
deposing  the  Abbot.       For  these  services  he  was 

'■  St.  Albans  probably  kept  a  '  studium  '  at  Gloucester  Hall 
from  1337.  De  la  Mare,  John  Moote,  Hethworth  and  Whetham- 
stede  were  all  considerable  benefactors  of  the  College,  among  their 
gifts  being  a  chapel,  library,  and  the  rebuilding  of  the  old  wooden 
house  in  stone.  For  the  relations  of  the  Abbey  and  Gloucester 
Hall,  see  Daniel  and  Barker's  History  of  Worcester  College, 
chapter  1:1. 

'  Gesta  Abbatum  II,  406. 

iS  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

made  a  Privy  Councillor,  and  henceforth  stood  in 
high  favour  with  Edward  III.  St.  Albans,  in  fact, 
was  at  the  height  of  its  reputation.  The  story 
seriously  told  in  the  chronicle  of  De  la  Mare,  in  a 
moment  of  despondency,  only  being  dissuaded  from 
resigning  his  abbacy  by  the  repeated  supplications 
of  King  John  of  France^  and  the  Black  Prince  suffi- 
ciently illustrates  his  social  eminence.  As  for  the 
Abbey,  it  even  eclipsed  its  old  rival,  the  Abbey  of 
Westminster.  It  was  in  vain  the  Abbot  of  West- 
minster claimed  the  first  seat  among  the  abbots  in 
Parliament.  So  long  as  de  la  Mare  lived,  that  seat 
was  occupied  by  the  more  important,  more  brilliant 
figure  of  the  Abbot  of  St.  Albans. 

Its  inability  to  resist  kingly  and  papal  extortion 

during  the  thirteenth  century  left  the  Abbey  in  a 

state  of  miserable  poverty.     Financial  comfort  could 

„  ,  be  restored  onlv  by  regulating  these  exac- 

Reform  _  .  "" 

of  the  tions.  This  the  abbots  appear  to  have 
realised,  and  John  of  Berkhampstead's 
(1290 — 1301)  new  arrangement"  with  the  King  is  the 
first  step  towards  a  remedy  of  the  evil.  The  existing 
debt  was  cancelled,  and  the  Abbey  secured  possession 
of  the  revenues  during  a  vacancy  in  return  for  a  pay- 
ment of  1,000  marks.  Any  advantage  which  this 
exclusion  of  the  King's  escheator  might  have  con- 

^  Living  in  England  in  captivity.  He  was  a  close  friend  of 
the  Abbot,  and  spent  much  of  his  time  at  St.  Albans. 

'"  The  need  of  it  had  long  been  felt  :  the  privilege  had,  in  fact, 
been  bought  in  two  particular  cases,  viz.,  in  1235  for  300  marks, 
and  in  1260  for  600  marks.  The  figures  (as  well  as  the  new  ar- 
rangement to  pay  1000  marks  in  the  future)  indicate  the  growth 
of  governmental  extortion. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 


ferred  upon  the  Abbey  was  nullified  by  the  unhappy 
occurrence  of  no  less  than  five  vacancies  between 
1290  and  1349.  Each  of  these  involved  not  only  the 
payment  of  1000  marks  to  the  King,  but  a  far  more 
serious  expenditure  to  secure  papal  confirmation. 
The  financial  embarrassment  of  the  House  surely 
increased.^  As  a  result  of  a  special  appeal  to  the 
Pope,  Abbot  Hugh  secured  a  licence  to  receive 
special  subsidies  from  the  cells  in  order  to  lighten 
the  debt.'  But  from  papal  exactions  there  was  no 
escape.  In  vain  the  Abbot  begged  to  be  excused 
from  personal  attendance  at  the  Curia.  His  presence 
was  insisted  on;  the  usual  enormous  fees  were 
exacted,  and  a  licence  to  contract  a  loan  to  meet  the 
expense  thus  incurred  was  the  only  relief  afforded 
him.^  Abbot  Hugh  early  became  a  favourite  of 
Edward  H,  and  the  King's  lavish  endowments  might 
well  have  served  to  repair  the  Abbey's  fortunes  but 
for  the  extensive  building  operations  which  were 
necessary.  The  church  fabric  was  in  a  ruinous  con- 
dition; walls  were  falling  and  roofs  tumbling  in,  and 
Abbot  Hugh  had  little  choice  but  to  restore  the  south 
side  of  the  church.  Small  wonder  that  the  debt 
which  was  2,300  marks  in  1308  was  more  than 
double  that  sum  twenty  years  later. 

At    the    accession    of    Richard    Wallingford    the 

'  The  almost  chronic  dearth  at  St.  Albans  in  the  early  fourteenth 
century  was  a  further  misfortune.  In  13 14  the  price  of  provisions 
in  the  town  was  excessive,  and  Edward  endeavoured  to  fi.K  it  by 
Ordinance  {Trokeloive.  p.  89). 

'■'  Cal.  Papal  Registers :  Papal  Letters  II,  1305-1342,  p.  75. 

^  Cal.  Papal  Registers:  Papal  Letters  II.  1305-1342,  p.  75. 

20  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

Abbey's  condition  attracted  the  notice  of  the  Crown, 
and  a  commission  was  appointed^  in  1327  to  '  inquire 
by  whose  neghgence  the  existing  defects  and  dissi- 
pation of  the  Abbey's  revenues  had  been  brought 
about.'  Two  years  later  (perhaps  as  a  result  of  the 
commission)  Abbot  Richard  received  permission  to 
live  abroad  for  three  years  '  to  avoid  the  burden  of 
too  great  expense.'^  In  this  unsatisfactory  condition 
the  Abbey  finances  remained  till  1349,  when  the 
Black  Death  visited  St.  Albans  with  unusual  severity. 
Abbot  Michael  and  three-fourths  of  the  convent 
perished,  and  there  is  little  doubt  that  the  mortality 
among  the  Abbey's  tenants  was  high.^  This  catas- 
trophe must  have  further  impoverished  the  Abbey, 
and  the  1000  marks  due  to  the  King  on  de  la  Mare's 
accession  could  only  be  paid  by  instalments.* 

De  la  Mare  realised  that  the  payment  to  King  and 

Pope  of  large  sums  at  irregular  intervals  was  fatal 

to  any  organisation  of  the  Abbey's  finances,  and  to 

„,     c"        -1   him  is  due  the  credit  of  having  con- 

The  rinancial         _  ° 

Measures  of      ceived  the  more  workable  system   of 
annual  contributions.     Soon  after  the 
outbreak  of  the  Great  Schism,  a  petition  was  ad- 
dressed to  the  Pope,   supported  by  commendatory 

^  Cal.  Pat.  Rolls,  1327-1330,  p.  84. 

^  Cal.   Pat.   Rolls,    1327-1330,   p.    362. 

^  Gesta  Abbatum  III,  p.  147,  '  per  epidemias  hominum  et 
mortalitatem  bestiarum  facultates  monasterii  redditae  sunt  exiles.' 
Also  Walsingham,  Hist.  Ang.  I,  273.  '  At  that  time,'  says  Wal- 
singham,  '  villages  formerly  very  populous  were  bereft  of  inhabi- 
tants, and  so  thickly  did  the  plague  lay  them  low  that  there 
scarcely  survived  enough  to  bury  the  dead  .  .  .  Many  were  of 
opinion  that  scarce  a  tenth  of  the  population  survived,' 

*  Cal.  Pat.  Rolls,  1 348-1350,  p.  476. 

THE   ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  21 

letters  from  the  King,  John  of  Gaunt,  Princess 
Joanna,  and  the  Archbishop  of  Canterbury.  The 
Abbot  prayed  that  in  return  for  an  annual  payment 
of  twenty  marks  the  election  of  succeeding  abbots 
should  receive  confirmation  without  their  personal 
attendance  at  Rome.^ 

The  arguments  which  the  envoys  to  Rome  were  to 
employ  in  the  hope  of  winning  the  Pope's  consent 
to  the  proposed  measure  show  clearly  the  difficulties 
of  the  Abbey  at  this  time.  The  whole  annual  revenue 
had  fallen  to  £1,053.^  Of  this,  £465  was  assigned  to 
the  Abbot — '  and  to  the  said  Abbot  pertains  the 
entertainment  of  noble  guests  and  of  all  laymen,  and 
the  prosecution  of  pleas  in  the  various  royal  courts; 
which,  inasmuch  as  laymen  are  more  hostile  to  monks 
than  they  were  wont,  are  more  expensive  than 
formerly,  and  also  occur  more  frequently.'  The 
remaining  £600  was  considered  inadequate  for  the 
maintenance  of  the  convent. 

An  objection  to  this  plea  of  poverty,  viz.,  that  the 
Abbey  was  really  much  richer  than  it  represented, 
owing  to  the  existence  of  its  numerous  cells,  was 
anticipated.  The  cells  were  said  to  be  a  charge  on 
the  mother  house,  which  at  its  own  expense  was 
continually  involved  in  litigation  on  their  behalf. 

Hospitality,  it  appeared,  was  the  greatest  burden 
the  Monastery  had  to  bear.  '  Also  the  Lord  Pope 
is  to  be  informed  that  the  Monastery  of  St.  Albans 

^  Gesta  Abbatum  III,  p.  146.  A  minor  demand  was  liberty  for 
the  abbot-elect  to  receive  benediction  at  the  hand  of  whatever 
bishop  he  chose. 

'^  Gesta  Abbatum  III,  p.  14S.     Summa  taxae  omnium  bonorum. 

22  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

is  near  London,  where  the  King's  Parliaments,  Con- 
vocation, and  other  assembhes  of  nobles  and  clergy 
are  held.  And  the  nobles  and  magnates  of  the 
realm,  both  on  their  journey  there  and  on  their 
return,  are  entertained  at  the  Abbey,  to  its  great 
expense  and  loss.'  The  dearness  of  provisions, 
owing  to  the  proximity  of  rich  neighbours,  had  also 
helped  to  impoverish  the  Abbey,  and  finally,  the 
partial  felling  of  its  woods  to  pay  its  debts  to  the 
King  and  Roman  Court  had  diminished  a  former 
source  of  income. 

At  this  time  the  Pope  stood  in  great  need  of  Eng- 
lish support,  and  might  therefore  have  been  expected 
readily  to  grant  Abbot  Thomas's  requests.  Yet  the 
desired  privileges  were  secured  only  by  lavish  bribery 
among  court  officials.  William  le  Strete,  one  of  the 
Abbey's  proctors  at  Rome,  writes  to  the  Abbot^ : 
'  And  I  hope  that  the  business  will  come  to  a  good 
end;  but  I  do  not  know  it  at  all  for  certain,  seeing 
that  the  Pope  is  very  capricious.'  He  goes  on  to  say 
that  the  Pope  has  not  yet  read  a  single  letter  from 
the  Abbot,  '  and  be  pleased  to  know  that  your  busi- 
ness cannot  be  carried  out  here  through  letters  from 
anyone,  but  only  through  money.'  Negotiations 
were  continued  until  1396.  In  that  year  Richard  II 
addressed  a  further  appeal  to  Boniface  IX  :  '  Whereas 
.  .  .  the  Monastery  of  St.  Albans-,'  he  wrote,  '  .  .  . 
has  its  means  grievously  diminished  by  the  heavy 
expenses   of  the   visits   of   the   abbots-elect   to   tne 

^  Gesta  Ahbatiim  III,  p.  171. 

*  Cal.   Papal  Letters  IV,  p.   293.     Sep.,    1396. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  23 

Apostolic  See  to  obtain  confirmation  and  benedic- 
tion ....  It  is  situate  in  the  uttermost  parts  of 
the  earth,  and  is  in  comparison  with  other  monas- 
teries of  the  realm  over  slenderly  endowed,  and  that 
too  in  a  barren  place;  whereas  therein  beyond  the 
other  monasteries  of  the  realm  the  highest  devotion, 
regular  discipline  and  daily  hospitality  flourishes; 
whereas  if  each  abbot-elect  were  bound  to  make  such 
visit  the  number  of  monks  would  be  minished,  their 
devotion  chilled,  and  hospitality  be  not  observed  .  .  .' 
This  letter  had  the  desired  effect,  and  the  Abbot's 
petition  was  granted  forthwith.^ 

The  weakness  of  the  central  power  during  Richard 
IPs  minority  had  offered  a  favourable  opportunity 
for  making  a  similar  arrangement  with  the  Crown. 
In  lieu  of  a  payment  of  1,000  marks  in  each  vacancy. 
Abbot  Thomas  had  induced  the  Government  to  accept 
an  annual  tribute  of  fifty  marks.- 

Half  a  century  earlier  such  measures  might  have 
completely  restored  the  Abbey's  finances,  and  even 
during  the  fifteenth  century  they  sensibly  lessened 
its  embarrassment.  More  they  could  not  do,  for  the 
decay  of  the  economic  system  was  to  make  prosperity 

^  The  grant  of  the  same  privilege  to  the  Abbey  of  Evesham  in 
1363  was  used  as  a  strong  argument  by  de  la  Mare  during  nego- 

*  Gesta  Abbatum  III,  p.  143.  In  1396,  Bury  St.  Edmunds 
made  a  similar  arrangement,  the  annual  payment  being  fixed  at 
£'io  (Cal.  Pat.  Rolls,  1396-99,  p.  21).  About  a  year  later,  follow- 
ing the  example  of  St.  Albans,  Abbot  Cratfield,  of  Bury  St.  Ed- 
munds, made  an  agreement  with  Boniface  IX  identical  with  that 
of  de  la  Mare  (Cal.  Pat.  Rolls,  1396-99,  p.  406). 

24  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

Although  the  Abbot  was  a  lay  magnate  as  well 

as  a  spiritual  peer,  it  is  remarkable  how  seldom  the 

Monastery  was  involved  in  political  and  party  strife. 

The  current  of  life  in  the  cloister 

Political  Attitude      ,  ,  .,,.,, 

of  Abbot  and  but  rarely  mmgled  with  the  stream 

Convent  in  the        ^f   national    life.       Occasionally    a 

14th  Century.  ■' 

great  noble,  like  Henry  Beaufort, 
Bishop  of  Lincoln,  might  be  the  Abbot's  enemy,  and 
try  to  do  him  hurt;  more  often  the  Abbey  enjoyed 
the  favour  of  nobles  of  all  parties,  of  Yorkist  as  of 
Lancastrian  kings,  and  in  return  offered  indis- 
criminate hospitality.  Such  an  attitude  tended  to 
deprive  the  Abbey  of  all  political  or  party  value.  A 
natural  bias,  it  should  perhaps  be  added,  was  dis- 
played in  favour  of  the  King,  upon  whose  goodwill 
the  prosperity  of  the  House  in  large  measure 
depended.  Abbot  Hugh  of  Eversdon,  for  instance, 
was  one  of  Edward  H's  'court  party,'  and  was 
richly  endowed  by^that  King.  Again,  Abbot  Thomas 
was  a  close  friend  and  supporter  of  Edward  HI, 
as  also  of  the  Black  Prince.  But  this  attitude  was 
after  all  little  more  than  the  loyalty  which  they  owed 
to  the  King.  Their  support  did  not  extend  to  party 
quarrels,  to  '  loving  those  whom  he  loved,  and 
shewing  enmity  towards  such  as  were  his  enemies.' 

This  detached  political  attitude  is  one  reason  why 
monastic  chronicles  are  often  so  intolerably  dull. 
Yet  politics  were  as  keen  and  as  absorbing  in  the 
Middle  Ages  as  they  are  now,  and  monks  and  Abbot 
must  have  followed  their  course,  and  criticised  the 
actors,  with  as  much  freedom  as  the  men  of  to-day, 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  25 

In  favour  of  St.  Albans  it  must  be  said  that,  in  com- 
parison with  other  monasteries,  its  chronicles  are 
singularly  living  and  human.  In  those  w^ritten 
during  the  revival  of  historical  writing  under  the 
guidance  of  Thomas  Walsingham,  the  political  sym- 
pathies of  the  convent  during  the  critical  period  of 
Richard  IFs  reign  are  fully  revealed. 

Towards  Richard  II  their  feelings  were  hostile,  if 
not  contemptuous.  Walsingham,  in  his  history  of 
the  reign,  describes  with  unction  the  King's  childish 
behaviour  during  his  fits  of  ungovernable  anger,^ 
his  violent  words  on  more  than  one  occasion  to  his 
Parliaments,  and  his  absurd  extravagance  in  dress. 
With  righteous  indignation  he  relates  how  Richard, 
on  his  way  to  London,  borrowed  from  the  monas- 
tery a  palfrey,  which  he  never  returned.  Another 
chronicler  tells  with  scorn  of  the  King's  visit  to 
the  Abbey  in  1394,  when  large  concessions  were 
promised,  but  never  fulfilled.^  De  la  Mare's 
successor,  John  Moote,  was  apparently  on  equally 
indifferent  terms  with  the  King.  '  This  Abbot,'  says 
the  chronicler,  *  gave  to  King  Richard  for  the  pur- 
pose of  preserving  his  good  will  and  avoiding  his 
malice,  at  different  times,  one  hundred  and  twenty-six 
pounds,  thirteen  shillings  and  four  pence. '^ 

The  attitude  of  the  convent  towards  Richard  II 

^  He  tells,  for  instance,  how  in  1384,  in  the  midst  of  an  argu- 
ment with  the  Duke  of  Lancaster,  he  threw  his  shoes  and  cap 
through  the  window.  In  1387  a  judge  made  difficulties  about 
signing  a  document  presented  to  him.  His  son  said,  according  to 
Walsingham,  that  his  father  was  knocked  down  and  kicked  as 
he  lay. 

*  Trokelowe,  p.   167.  '  Gesta  Abbatum  III,  Ixxii. 

26  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

seems  reasonable  enough.  The  King,  although  he 
conferred  more  than  one  benefit  upon  St.  Albans, 
does  not  appear  to  have  cherished  any  affection  for 
the  Abbey.  He  was  rather  '  an  especial  favourer  and 
promoter  of  Westminster,'  v^hose  interests  he  con- 
sistently supported  in  the  disputes  of  the  reign 
between  the  two  houses  concerning  Parliamentary 
precedence.  More  difficult  of  explanation  are  the 
feelings  St.  Albans  entertained  towards  John  of 
Gaunt.  A  contemporary  manuscript — called,  on  ac- 
count of  its  bitterness,  the  *  Scandalous  Chronicle  '^ — 
reveals  the  existence  of  strong  hostility  towards  him, 
and  repeatedly  speaks  of  him  in  most  abusive  terms. 
In  the  early  years  of  the  fifteenth  century,  when  the 
'  Scandalous  Chronicle '  was  utilised  for  a  new  edition 
of  the  history  of  the  time,-  the  worst  of  the  slighting 
references  to  John  of  Gaunt  were  erased  and  the 
remarks  generally  toned  down,  while  in  the  margin 
of  the  MSS.  is  inserted  cave  quia  offendiculum. 
Plainly  it  was  unwise  to  have  such  remarks  about 
the  father  of  the  living  King,  and  so  the  '  Scandalous 
Chronicle  '  was  suppressed  at  the  place  where  it  was 
written.^  Many  motives  may  be  attributed  to  the 
Abbey  for  its  hostile  attitude  towards  John  of  Gaunt. 
It  had  private  grievances;  the  Abbot,  for  instance, 
had  resented  (though  he  feared  to  refuse)  Lancaster's 

^  The  chronicle  has  survived  in  two  forms,  viz.,  Cotton  MSS., 
Otho  Cii  (British  Museum),  and  Bodleian  MSS.  316  ff,  150-1,  plus 
Harleian  MSS.  6434.  It  has  been  printed  in  Chronicon  Angliae 
(Rolls  Series). 

^  The  Royal  MSS.  E.  ix  (B.M.)— the  basis  of  Walsingham's  His- 
toria  Anglicana. 

^  See  Maunde  Thompson.  Intro,  to  Chronicon  Angliae  (Rolls 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  27 

demand  for  large  supplies  of  timber  for  his  castle 
at  Hertford.^  Another  reason,  doubtless,  was  the 
Duke's  patronage  of  the  '  Arch-heretic '  Wycliffe, 
whom  the  Abbot  and  convent  regarded  with  peculiar 
loathing.  But  the  main  cause  of  their  hostility 
towards  John  of  Gaunt  sprang  almost  certainly  from 
his  political  action.  From  1377  to  1386  Lancaster 
was  most  unpopular  with  almost  all  classes.^  The 
many  misfortunes  of  these  years— the  French  raids 
on  the  south  coast,  the  failure  of  the  English  arms 
in  France  and  Flanders,  and  even  the  unsuccessful 
government  at  home — were  laid  to  his  charge. 
From  the  Historia  Anglicana  it  is  evident  that  the 
monks  shared  this  common  attitude  towards  John 
of  Gaunt.  Again  and  again  responsibility  for  failure 
is  attributed  to  him,  and  he  is  branded  as  an  incom- 
petent general  and  a  disloyal,  scheming  and  un- 
successful politician.  It  is  rather  startling  to  find, 
however,  that  outwardly  the  most  friendly  relations 
were  maintained  between  the  Duke  and  the  Abbey, 
while  simultaneously  such  abuse  was  heaped  upon 
him  in  its  official  chronicles.  The  Duke  acted  con- 
tinuously as  a  patron  of  the  Abbey,  and  conferred 
a  long  list  of  benefits  upon  it.^  Evidently  he  was 
unaware  of  the  secret  sentiments  of  the  House  which 
he  patronised  so  liberally.^ 

^  Historia  Anglicana  I,  p.  339. 

'  The  peasant  armies  in  1381  are  said  to  have  taken  as  their 
cry  :  '  We  will  have  no  King  named  John.' 

^  See  Armitage  Smith,  John  of  Gaunt,  pp.   169-171. 

*  This  is  sufficient  proof — if  proof  were  needed — of  the  '  indepen- 
dence '  of  English  chroniclers,  i.e.,  they  did  not  merely  write  what 
they  were  told. 

28  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

A  growing  movement  towards  reform  and  revival 
was  thus  the  main  trend  of  events  at  St.  Albans 
during    the     fourteenth    century.       The    persistent 

„    .    ,  ,    .        efforts    of    Maryns    and    the     other 

Revival  during  -^ 

de  la  Mare's       short-lived    abbots    removed    abuses 
^'  and    restored    the    discipline.       The 

long  abbacy  of  Thomas  de  la  Mare  was  marked 
by  able  administration,  and  minute  and  unflagging 
attention  to  the  monastery's  interests.  The  Abbot 
shirked  no  contest  to  retain  or  regain  lands,  services 
or  jurisdiction  upon  which  the  Abbey  had  just 
claims.  His  rule  was  necessarily  marked  by  con- 
stant litigation  with  high  and  low,  from  which,  in  a 
great  majority  of  cases,  he  emerged  successful. 
This  great  labour,  the  details  of  which  fill  the 
chronicles  of  his  abbacy,  had  the  effect  of  restoring 
in  some  measure  the  Abbey's  material  prosperity. 
Finally,  by  his  statesmanlike  measures  with  regard 
to  future  vacancies  he  had  done  all  in  his  power 
to  ensure  the  permanence  of  his  work  of  financial 

The  effect  of  lessening  the  pressure  of  outside 
circumstances  and  rendering  more  safe  and  easy  the 
existence    of   the    Abbey    was    to    promote    a    mild 

revival   which   bore   its   best    fruits    in   a 
Writ'ing^^    new  outburst  of  historical  writing.     The 

golden  age  of  St.  Albans'  historical  com- 
position had  been  the  early  thirteenth  century,  and 
was  associated  with  the  names  of  Roger  Wendover 
and  Matthew  Paris.  Then  it  was  that  the  St.  Albans 
School  grew  famous.     Its  MSS.  were  frequently  lent 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  29 

to  other  houses  for  the  writing  up  of  their  own 
chronicles/  and  when  official  information  was  re- 
quired on  a  point  of  history  it  became  usual  to  refer 
to  the  St.  Albans  chronicles.^  With  so  long  a 
tradition  of  annalistic  composition^  the  Abbey  de- 
veloped a  variety  of  script  unique  in  England,  and 
experts  can  identify  with  considerable  certainty  the 
products  of  the  St.  Albans  scriptorium.  The  com- 
position of  history  never  actually  ceased  after  the 
time  of  Matthew  Paris.  The  tradition  was  main- 
tained (though  perhaps  it  languished  somewhat)  by 
the  writings  of  Rishanger,  Trokelowe  and  Blane- 
forde.  At  the  close  of  the  fourteenth  century 
occurred  the  valuable  revival  under  the  guidance  of 
Thomas  of  Walsingham.  The  years  1370  and  1420 
mark  roughly  the  limits  within  which  it  fell.  The 
amount  of  work  produced  was  considerable,  and  in 
quality  was  hardly  inferior  to  that  of  the  thirteenth 
century.       From  an  historical  point   of  view   it  is 

'  Tout.  Polit.  Hist,  of  England,  12 16-1377,  P-  45^  :  '  The  monks 
were  jealously  proud  of  their  library  to  which  almost  every  abbot 
found  it  expedient  to  contribute  largely.'  In  1326  there  was  great 
indignation  when  Abbot  Richard  gave  or  sold  nearly  forty  vplumes 
to  Richard  de  Bury,  a  famous  lover  of  books,  to  promote  the 
interests  of  the  abbot  at  Court.  The  incident  was  not  forgotten, 
and  after  de  Bury's  death  the  books  were  bought  back  by  the 
new  abbot. 

^  E.g.  Higden's  Polychronicon,  viii.  278. 

^  The  Scriptorium  had  been  founded  by  Abbot  Paul,  circa  1077. 
Owing  to  the  ignorance  of  his  own  monks  he  was  compelled  to 
fill  it  with  hired  scribes.  Towards  the  end  of  the  twelfth  century 
a  '  historiographer  '  was  appointed,  and  from  that  time  the 
systematic  compilation  of  annals  may  be  taken  to  date.  From 
the  peculiar  character  of  the  St.  Albans  script  Sir  T.  DufTus 
Hardy  concluded  that  Matthew  Paris  learnt  the  art  of  writing 
from  a  foreign  schoolmaster.  See  Catalogue  :  Materials  for  His- 
tory of  Great  Britain  and  Ireland  III,  xxv,  xxxiv,  cxxiii. 

30  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

probably  more  important,  since  by  Walsingham's 
time  other  sources  of  chronicle  writings  were  be- 
ginning to  fail.-^ 

In  its  revival  under  De  la  Mare,  St.  Albans  was 
almost   unique   among  the   English   abbeys;   in   no 
other   case    was    there    any    movement    comparable 
with    it.       Yet    there    is    a    grave 
MoSdsm^"^    danger    of    overrating    the    signifi- 
cance of  De  la  Mare's  abbacy.     The 
monastic  system  cannot  be  said  to  have  been  re- 
invigorated   nor   primitive    fervour  restored.      The 
revival    was    confined    within    narrow    limits,    and, 
on  the  whole,  its  fruits  were  small.     It  was,  how- 
ever,  sufficient  to   blunt  the  edge  of  much  of  the 
contemporary  criticism  which  in  the  fourteenth  cen- 
tury  was    being    applied    to    the    monastic    system. 
Chaucer,    for  example,   in   his   Prologue,   described 
for  all  time  the  typical  monk  of  his  day — 

A   Monk   ther   was,   a   fair   for  the   maistrye, 

an   out-rydere,    that   lovede   venerye ; 

A  manly  man,  to  been  an  abbot  able. 

Ful  many  a  deyntee  hors  hadde  he  in  stable  : 

and,  when  he  rood,  men  mighte  his  brydel  here 

Ginglen   in   a  whistling  wynd   as  clere 

And   eek    as   loude   as    doth   the    Chapel-belle, 

Ther  as  this  lord  was  keper  of  the  celle 

The  reule  of  Seint  Maure  or  of  Seint   Beneit, 

By-cause  that  it  was  old  and   somdel   streit, 

*  The  same  epoch  left  its  impress  upon  the  Abbey  fabric.  Much 
of  it  was  rebuilt  by  Abbot  Thomas,  though  unfortunately  lapse 
of  time  and  the  restoration  by  Lord  Grimthorpe's  munificence 
have  left  little  except  the  great  .Abbey  gateway.  Some  stained 
glass,  wall-paintings  and  a  rood  screen  of  this  date  still  remain, 
and  in  Abbot  Whethamstede's  chapel  there  is  a  beautiful  brass 
of  De  la  Mare. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  31 

This   ilke   monk   leet   olde   thinges   pace 
And  held  after  the  newe  world  the  space, 

.   .   .   therfor  he  was  a   fricasour  aright 
Grehoundes  he  hadde,  as  swifte  as  fowel  in  flight. 
Of  pricking  and  of  hunting  for  the  hare 
Was  al  his  lust,  for  no  cost  wolde  he  spare 

His  head  was  balled,   that  shoon  as  any  glas 
And  eek  his  face,  as  he  hadde  been  anoint. 
He  was  a  lord  ful  fat  and  in  good  point 

He  was  nat  pale  as  a  for-pyned  goost 
A  fat  swan  loved  he  best  of  any  roost.  ^ 

But  Chaucer's  satire,  once  so  true,-  was  a  spent 
shot  in  De  la  Mare's  time. 

There  was  other  contemporary  criticism  which 
was  perhaps  harder  to  meet.  Langland  looked  for- 
ward with  certainty  to  the  time  when  the  monastic 
system  should  be  destroyed — '  shall  have  knock  of 
a  king  and  incurable  the  wound.'  The  criticism  of 
Wycliffe  was  more  severe.  His  rejection  of  the 
Pope,  wath  whose  interests  fhose  of  the  exempt 
monasteries  were  bound  up,  his  doctrine  of  evan- 
gelical poverty,  and  the  practical  proposal  that  the 
Government  should  disendow  a  delinquent  church 
undermined  the  very  foundations  of  monasticism. 
Wycliffe's  position  rested  upon  the  double  argument 
of  the  decay  of  the  monastic  life  and  the  superiority 
of  a  life  lived  in  the  world.  Of  this  contention 
St.  Albans  could  refute  only  the  half.  The  vicious 
handling  which  the  reformer  receives  in  its  chronicles 

'  Chaucer  :  Prologue,  &c.  (Morris),  lines  165-206. 
'  Cf.  p.  12  ante. 

32  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

almost  suggests  an  anticipation  of  defeat,  a  tacit 
recognition  of  the  weakness  of  the  writer's  position. 
Thomas  Walsingham,  in  his  Historia  Anglicana, 
dubs  him  '  Wyk-believe '  and  '  disciple  of  anti-Christ '; 
speaks  not  of  his  opinions,  but  of  his  ravings 
(deliramenta),  and  unhesitatingly  attributes  to  his 
inspiration  such  varied  ills  as  the  Peasants'  Revolt 
and  the  profanation  of  the  Sacrament  by  a  Wiltshire 
knight.  When  he  chronicles  the  death  of  '  that  limb 
of  Satan,  idol  of  heretics,  mirror  of  hypocrites  and 
fabricator  of  lies — John  Wycliffe,'  it  is  only  to  repeat 
cruel  gossip  about  his  last  hours.  The  life  of 
Wycliffe,  in  fact,  marks  a  fresh  step  in  the  growing 
unpopularity  of  the  monastic  system,  and  with  a 
sure  instinct  St.  Albans  recognised  the  fact,  and  so 
far  as  it  was  able,  dealt  with  him  accordingly. 

The  Necessity  for  Dissolution 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  35 


The  Necessity  for   Dissolution. 

It  remains  for  us,  taking  our  stand  at  the  year  in 
which  the  Monastery  was  dissolved,  to  survey  the 
period  that  has  elapsed  since  the  death  of  Thomas 
de  la  Mare.  It  was  a  time  of  stagnation,  followed 
by  rapid  decline.  At  the  end  of  the  fifteenth  century 
the  Abbey  was  financially  more  embarrassed  and 
morally  even  more  depraved  than  in  the  first  years 
of  our  period.  Without  attempting  a  defence  either 
of  the  motives  of  Henry  VIII  or  the  methods  of 
the  Dissolution,  no  other  conclusion  is  possible  but 
that  the  abolition  of  St.  Albans  was  both  just  and 
necessary.  The  Abbey  had  long  since  outlived  its 
useful  functions. 

The  necessity  for  the  dissolution  rests  on  a  two- 
fold argument.  There  was  first,  the  decay  of  reli- 
gion, and  even  morality  itself,  within  the  cloister; 
and  secondly,  there  was  the  decay  of  the  manorial 
system,  the  economic  basis  of  monasticism. 

36  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

(A).  Economic  History  of  the  Abbey,  1300-1539. 

A  great  spirtual  peer  who  as  a  mitred  abbot  took 
his  place  in  ParHament  among  the  magnates,  the 
Abbot  of  St.  Albans  was  a  no  less  important  per- 
sonage in  virtue  of  his  huge  landed 

as  ^Landlord,  possessions.  Indeed,  it  has  never 
been  determined  whether  the  right  of 
such  abbots  to  sit  in  the  Upper  House  rested  upon 
their  spiritual  dignity  or  their  position  as  tenants- 
in-chief  and  great  landlords.  The  Abbot  of  St. 
Albans  exercised  a  wide  seignorial  jurisdiction  over 
the  Hundred  of  Cashio  from  early  times,  and  later, 
over  numerous  manors  in  the  eastern  counties,* 
monuments  to  the  piety  of  wealthy  donors  through 
the  centuries.  At  the  commencement  of  the  four- 
teenth century  the  relations  existing  between  the 
Abbey  and  its  tenants  were  solely  those  of  the 
manorial  system,  now  fast  decaying  on  all  but 
monastic  estates.  The  symmetry  of  this  arrange- 
ment had  been  broken  at  an  early  date  by  the 
growth  of  the  town  at  the  very  gates  of  the  Abbey. 
The  townsmen  were  ruled  with  the  same  despotic 
power  as  the  country  tenants,  from  whom  they 
differed  only  in  being  more  concentrated.  As  in 
the  closely  parallel  case  of  Bury  St.  Edmunds,  St. 
Albans  was  governed  by  a  bailifif  chosen  by  the  Abbot 

^  Viz.  Essex,  Hertford,  Bedford,  Bucks,  Cambridge,  Kent, 
Middlesex,  Yorkshire,  Norfolk,  Northampton,  Berks,  Lincoln,  and 
in  London. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  37 

and  holding  office  during  his  pleasure;  the  towns- 
men were  tried  in  the  Abbot's  court,  and  offenders 
incarcerated  in  the  monastic  prison.  The  Abbot 
secured  the  profits  arising  from  his  court — *  the 
court  of  St.  Albans  under  the  ash-tree  every  three 

Abbey     ^^^^^  ' — and  from  fairs,  as  also  the  heavy 

and        tolls  imposed  upon  all  merchandise  passing 
through  the  town.     This  antiquated  tyranny 
contrasted  ill  with  the  wide  municipal  independence 
enjoyed  by  other  towns. 

There  were  thus  substantial  reasons  why  the 
townsmen  should  free  themselves  at  the  first  oppor- 
tunity from  the  hated  tutelage  of  the  Abbey,  though 
it  must  be  confessed  that  their  civic  disabilities 
weighed  less  with  them  than  the  strict  preservation 
of  the  Lord  Abbot's  warrens  and  fish  ponds,  the 
close  fencing  In  of  his  estates,  and  a  host  of  galling 
and  antiquated  signs  of  subjection,  the  chief  of 
which  was  the  obligation  to  full  their  cloth  and 
grind  their  com  at  the  Abbot's  mill. 

It  was  typical  of  the  monastery's  conservatism 
that  each  succeeding  abbot  refused  all  concession. 
Discontent  culminated  in  revolt.  In  1274,  taking 
as  their  pretext  the  matter  of  the  Abbot's  mill,  the 
townsmen  inaugurated  a  mild  rebellion  by  setting- 
up  hand-mills  in  their  own  houses.  Abbot  Roger 
easily  suppressed  the  rising,  and  an  outbreak  in 
1314,  provoked  by  the  tactless,  overbearing  Hugh 
of  Eversdon,  collapsed  even  more  ignominiously. 
A  more  serious  disturbance,  which  broke  out  in 
1327,    was    not    finally    crushed    for    seven    years. 

38  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

Taking  advantage  of  the  death  of  Abbot  Hugh, 
and  the  temporary  anarchy  which  followed  the 
death  of  Edward  II,  the  townsmen  rose  again  and 
blockaded  the  Abbey.  The  affair  was  rendered  the 
more  serious  by  the  existence  among  the  monks 
of  a  party  in  league  with  the  malcontents.  The 
internal  danger  was  averted  by  sending  away  the 
disaffected  monks  to  distant  cells,  but  Abbot  William 
was  compelled  to  give  verbal  consent  to  the  demands 
of  the  townsmen  for  a  charter  embodying  the  right 
of  choosing  their  own  members  of  Parliament, 
liberty  to  use  handmills,  to  fish  in  the  Abbey  waters, 
and  to  hunt  its  preserves,  the  privilege  of  executing 
vvrrits  without  the  interference  of  the  bailiff  of  the 
liberty,  and  finally,  the  title  of  free  burgesses.^  By 
royal  help  the  Abbot  at  length  crushed  the  rising; 
the  old  subjection  was  once  more  firmly  rivetted 
upon  the  townsmen,  and  the  Abbey  parlour  was 
paved  with  their  handmills  as  a  token  of  their  defeat 
and  a  warning  for  the  future.^  It  is  significant  of 
the  cruelty  and  selfishness  of  the  Abbey  that  no 
sort  of  concession  was  made  to  the  defeated  towns- 
men. At  this  time,  as  subsequently,  the  Abbot 
showed  himself  incapable  of  appreciating  the  real 
trend  of  events.  For  a  moment  the  Abbey  had 
triumphed  and  all  was  well.     Under  the  firm  rule 

'  Gcsta  Abbatum  II,  pp.  157-8. 

^  Another  small  outbreak  in  1356  has  escaped  the  notice  of 
writers  on  St.  Albans  municipal  history.  See  Cal.  Pat.  Rolls, 
1354-1358,  p.  493.  It  was  perhaps  as  a  consequence  of  this  that 
the  Convent  secured  a  licence  (1357)  to  crenellate  the  dwelling- 
place  of  the  Abbey.     Cal.  Pat.  Rolls,  1354-1358,  p.  574. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  39 

of  Thomas  de  la  Mare  there  was  no  hope  of  success 
for  an  isolated  rising,  but  the  outbreak  of  the 
Peasants'  Revolt  in  1381  gave  the  tenants  their 
opportunity,  and  the  Abbey  reaped  the  fruit  of  its 
foolish  and  short-sighted  policy. 

So  much  for  the  townsmen.       The  bulk  of  the 
Abbot's   subjects,    however,   were  country  tenants, 
living  on  his  various  manors.     Under  the  manorial 
J,  system  rural  tenants  lived  in  a  state  of 

Country  political  and  economic  subjection  to  their 
lord.  Of  such  tenants  a  certain  number 
were  free  labourers,  but  the  large  majority  were 
bound  to  the  lord  by  varying  degrees  of  servile 
tenure.  The  serfs  or  villeins  divided  their  time 
between  cultivating  their  own  patches  of  land  and 
rendering  labour  services  on  that  part  of  the  manor 
which  was  cultivated  by  the  lord  or  his  bailiff  for 
the  supply  of  his  own  granaries.  On  many  of  the 
St.  Albans  manors  a  small  money  rent  was  also 
paid  by  the  serf  for  his  land.^  By  long  tradition, 
though  scarcely  by  law,  the  villein  could  not  be 
evicted;  on  the  other  hand,  he  was  bound  to  the 
soil,  owed  many  feudal  dues  to  his  lord,  and  so 
many  days'  work  per  year  on  the  lord's  domain. 
A  series  of  regulations  of  the  close  of  the  thirteenth 
century^  discloses  the  harsh  policy  of  St.  Albans 
with  regard  to  its  villeins.  Freemen  were  forbidden 
to  buy  villein  lands;  villeins  were  forbidden  to  sell 

■    Whethamstede  II,  p.  324-5  ;  for  such  services  the  villein  com- 
monly received  besides  his  food  a  small  wage. 
'  Gesta  Abbafmn  I,  p.  453-455. 

40  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

to  anyone  either  lands  or  produce;^  money  payments 
and  labour  services  were  rigorously  exacted,  and 
the  huge  warrens  in  possession  of  the  Abbey  were 
strictly  preserved.  The  effect  of  these  regulations 
was  to  prevent  the  serf  increasing  his  holding,  and 
to  maintain  the  distinction  between  free  and  unfree 
tenants.  By  this  means  alone  could  the  Abbot  com- 
bat the  general  tendency  towards  fusion  of  the  two 

While  the  Abbey  was  thus  fighting  to  continue 
the  old  tyranny  manumissions  were  becoming  fre- 
quent on  lay  lands,  and  all  over  the  country  labour 
services  were  being  given  up  in  favour  of  money 
payments.  Further,  the  practice  of  letting  out 
lands  in  farms  to  rent-paying  tenants  was  growing 
more  general.  By  diminishing  the  population  the 
Black  Death  (1349)  hastened  this  process,^  for  land- 
lords were  compelled  to  offer  high  wages  to  secure 

^  An   unusually   severe   regulation. 

^  It  was  highly  desirable  for  the  Abbot  to  maintain  this  dic- 
tinction.  In  the  King^s  courts  the  villein  had  no  case  against  his 
lord  save  for  bodily  injury.  In  practice  it  appears  that  the  Abbot 
of  St.  Albans  could  inflict  even  bodily  injury  with  impunity.  See, 
for  instance,  the  case  of  Nicholas  Tybson,  who,  having  been 
stripped,  thrashed  and  wounded  by  the  Abbot's  servants,  brought 
an  action  for  redress.  The  case  was  at  once  dismissed  as  a  false 
appeal  on  the  ground  that  Tybson  was  the  born  villein  of  the 
Abbot  (Gesta  Abbatum  III,  p.  39). 

^  T.  W.  Page  :  '  End  of  Villeinage  in  England  '  passim.  See, 
too,  Petit-Dutaillis'  introduction  to  R^ville,  where  the  views  of 
Stubbs  and  Thorold  Rogers  on  this  subject  are  exploded.  The 
period  1349-13S1,  it  is  proved,  was  not  marked  (as  they  believed) 
by  the  reduction  to  serfdom  of  men  emancipated  before  the  Black 
Death,  or  the  re-assertion  on  the  part  of  landlords  of  labour  ser- 
vices already  commuted  for  money  payments.  On  the  contrary, 
the  process  of  commutation  (which  had  not  advanced  nearly  so 
far  by  1349  as  Stubbs  thought)  proceeded  at  an  increasing  rate 
after  1345. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  41 

the  cultivation  of  their  demesnes,  and  they  had  per- 
force to  bring  in  rent-paying  tenants  to  till  the 
lands  of  such  of  their  villeins  as  had  succumbed. 
Nor  was  the  break-up  of  the  old  system  retarded 
by  the  Statute  of  Labourers  (1352).  The  Act, 
which  provided  that  food  prices  as  well  as  wages 
should  remain  fixed,  was  not  so  much  a  blow  aimed 
at  the  poorer  clases  as  an  attempt  to  restore  the 
state  of  affairs  existing  before  1349.  The  process 
of  manumission  continued;  the  numbers  of  freemen 
steadily  increased,  and,  in  spite  of  the  Statute,  wages 
and  prices  rose  higher  than  ever  before.  This  in- 
crease in  the  numbers  of  free  labourers  inspired 
those  who  were  still  in  villeinage  with  the  ambition 
to  become  themselves  free  and  to  cease  rendering 
labour  services  which,  as  the  token  of  their  servile 
tenure,  were  regarded  as  degrading. 

Such  were  the  grievances  of  the  peasants  who  in 
1381  formed  the  backbone  of  the  Revolt.  The 
unwillingness  to  allow  manumission  which  has  been 
seen  to  exist  towards  the  end  of  the  thirteenth  cen- 
tury at  St.  Albans,  and  the  harsh  provisions  made 
to  retain  labour  services,  continued  in  full  force. ^ 
In  the  case  of  one  manor,^  it  is  true,  the  two  systems 
appear  to  have  existed  side  by  side  about  1340,  but 

*  No  manumissions  occur  in  the  records  until  more  than  a 
generation  after  the  revolt :  evidently  the  old  system  remained 
unprosperous  but  intact  at  St.  Albans  in  1381. 

^  R^ville  :  Le  Soulevement  des  Travailleurs  d'Angleterre  en  1381, 
p.  XXV.  See  also  Gesta  Abbatum  II,  p.  123  and  III,  pp.  39-41, 
IVhethamstede  II,  pp.  324  and  333.  At  the  cell  of  Tynemouth  in 
1378  there  is  no  trace  of  commutation  in  the  manor  rolls  ;  the 
old  system  still  exists  in  its  entirety  ;  see  Gibson  :  History  of  Tyne- 
mouth, Vol.  II,  Appendix,  p.  cxxi. 

42  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

the  rest  of  the  evidence  points  to  the  retention  in 
full  of  the  old  system  both  on  the  St.  Albans  estates 
and  on  the  estates  of  its  cells.  Thus  in  1381  the 
rural  tenants  of  St.  Albans  were  ready  to  join  in 
the  general  revolt.  Simultaneously  the  townsmen 
made  a  final  attempt  to  win  from  the  Abbot  privi- 
leges identical  with  those  demanded  in  1327. 

There  is  little  reason  to  linger  over  the  details  of 

the  Revolt.     The  townsmen  rose  in  a  body  and  set 

themselves   to    destroy   all   visible   tokens    of   their 

subjection.     The  fences  of  the  Abbot's 

of^n8i^°"^  woods  were  pulled  down,  his  game  was 
killed  freely,  and  a  show  was  made  of 
dividing  his  domain  into  small  individual  holdings. 
Many  houses  were  burnt,  and  the  Abbey  itself  was 
mildly  raided;  but  from  first  to  last  there  was  no 
wish  to  take  life.  The  leader  of  the  insurgents  was 
William  Grindcob,  who  appears  to  have  been  some- 
thing of  an  enthusiast,  and  the  most  disinterested 
of  all  the  leaders  in  this  revolt.  In  compliance  with 
his  demands  the  Abbot  was  compelled  to  deliver 
up  all  the  Abbey  charters,  and  then  to  draw  up  a 
new  charter  granting  to  the  townsmen  (i)  rights  of 
pasturage  on  his  common,  (2)  permission  to  use 
private  handmills,  (3)  entire  freedom  to  hunt  and 
fish  over  the  monastic  estates,  and  (4)  self-govern- 
ment by  freely-elected  officials.  These  were  a 
repetition  of  the  demands  of  1327,  except  that  in 
the  interval  the  notion  of  self-government  had 
become  more  clearly  defined. 

In  spite  of  the  townsmen's  boast  that  they  were 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  43 

in  alliance  with  the  country  tenants,  the  two  bodies 
seem  to  have  acted  independently.  Each  had  its 
own  grievances  to  redress.  Indeed,  the  country 
tenants  were  still  further  divided,  but  the  Abbey  was 
powerless  to  resist  even  such  small  bodies  as  the 
villeins  of  individual  manors.  The  villeins  on  most 
of  the  Hertford  manors — Tittenhanger,  Northaw, 
Watford,  Berkhamstead — marched  to  the  Abbey 
and  in  a  curiously  restrained  spirit  secured  charters 
satisfying  tlieir  various  local  grievances.  The 
tenants  of  the  manor  of  Redburn,  for  example, 
extracted  charters  containing  the  abolition  of  serf- 
dom, of  villein  services  (in  favour  of  money  rents), 
and  also,  in  common  with  the  townsmen,  the  rights 
of  the  chase  and  of  fishing.  Those  of  Rickmans- 
worth  obtained  all  these  privileges  and  the  right 
besides  of  disposing  freely  of  lands  and  movables; 
and  so  it  was  done  by  most  other  manors  in  the 

But  the  privileges  were  secured  only  to  be  lost 
almost  immediately.  The  King's  officers  arrived  at 
St.  Albans,  no  attempt  at  resistance  was  made,  and 
the  trouble  subsided  as  quickly  as  it  had  arisen. 
The  fifteen  executions  that  followed  (Grindcob  being 
the  most  notable  victim  and  dying  finely)  were,  for 
the  age,  mild  enough  retaliation  on  the  part  of  a 
panic-stricken  government.  As  a  matter  of  course, 
the  Abbey  was  restored  in  its  privileges,  and  the 
town  subjected  to  it  until  the  Dissolution. 

In  this  way  the  Abbey  was  officially  confirmed  in 
its  retention  of  an  economic  system  which  had  be- 

44  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

come  both  unjust  and  unprofitable.  Yet  economic 
change  was  inevitable,  and  received  a  grudging  re- 
cognition. In  1424  the  Abbot  secured  a  papal 
g^j^  bull^  allowing  the  Abbey  complete  freedom 
to  let  out  its  lands  in  farms  to  rent-paying 
tenants — the  system  long  since  in  vogue  on  lay 
estates.  Later  in  the  century  manumissions  of 
bondmen  become  more  and  more  frequent.  At  first 
manumission  is  regarded  as  a  privilege  by  the  serfs, 
and  the  price  paid  for  it  is  commonly  entered  in 
the  margin  of  the  document;  but  gradually  examples 
grow  more  common;  no  more  money  entries  occur, 
and  it  seems  that  the  Abbot  was  only  too  happy 
'  to  be  rid  of  the  presence  of  persons  who  had  claims 
upon  him  as  a  landowner  without  any  power  on 
his  part  to  exact  a  return  to  himself  of  commen- 
surate advantage.'^  Thus  the  old  agricultural 
system  slowly  broke  up,  despite  the  monks  who  to 
the  last  retarded  the  transition  to  the  new  order. 

Towards  the  town  the  Abbey  remained  to  the  last 
unbending,  though  not  on  account  of  any  diminu- 
tion in  the  resentment  with  which  it  was  regarded 
by  the  inhabitants.  In  1424  a  large  crowd  appeared 
at  the  gate  of  the  Abbey,  armed  with  swords,  to 
demand  concessions  similar  to  those  of  the  extorted 
charter  of  1381 ;  but  they  were  still  cowed  by  the 
recollection  of  their  late  rising,  and  the  affair  came 
to  nothing.^    The  last  mention  of  open  resistance 

'  Amundesham  I,  163.         ^   Whethamstede  II,  Intro.,  p.  xxxv. 

^  A  few  years  earlier  Abbot  Heyworth  had  suppressed  a  similar 
rising  at  Barnet  (Whethamstede  I,  451-2). 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  45 

occurs  in  1455  when  John  Chertsey  erected  a  private 
mill,  and  so  withdrew  corn  from  that  of  the  Abbot. 
To  such  an  act  of  daring  he  seems  to  have  been 
inspired  by  his  wife,  a  woman  of  spirit.  Chertsey, 
however,  was  a  timid  creature;  his  heart  failed  him, 
and  he  was  induced  to  make  humble  apology  to  the 
Abbot  and  to  destroy  the  mill. 

There  can  be  little  or  no  doubt  that  in  the  six- 
teenth century  monastic  lands  were  far  behind  lay 
estates  in  economic  development.  According  to  M. 
Savine,  the  agricultural  revolution  had  scarcely 
affected  the  lands  of  the  monks  at  the  time  of  the 
Dissolution.^  '  Arable  land  occupies  ...  a  very 
considerable  part  of  the  area  that  the  monks  kept  in 
their  own  hands;  it  was  very  little,  if  at  all,  less 
than  the  area  of  the  several  pastures.  As  agricul- 
turists the  monks  carried  on  a  large,  or  at  any  rate, 
a  fair-sized  business.  Now  if  the  conversion  of 
arable  land  into  pasture  land  had  become  general 
under  the  first  two  Tudors,  then  in  these  thriving 
monastery  farms  it  ought  to  be  in  much  greater 
evidence  than  in  the  small  homesteads  of  the 
peasants,  who  tilled  the  land  for  their  own  subsis- 
tence, and  were  fettered  on  all  sides  by  communal 
regulations.'  But  that  the  revolution  was  in  full 
swing  on  lay  estates  we  know  from  More's  Utopia, 
which  was  written  as  early  as  1516.^  Even  at  this 
date  agriculture  was  being  widely  abandoned  by  lay 
farmers   who  were  converting  what   was   formerly 

^  Oxford  Studies  in  Social  and  Legal  History,  Vol.  i,  p.  177. 
^  See   Utopia  (Clarendon  Press  Edition),  pp.    13-20. 

46  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

arable    into    pasture    land,    the    growing    woollen 
industry  being  found  more  profitable.^ 

To  the  last  St.  Albans  strove  to  check  economic 

development.     At  what  was  perhaps  the  great  crisis 

in  its  history — the  revolt  of  1381 — it  had  definitely 

refused  to  adapt  itself  to  altered  condi- 


tions.  By  that  refusal  it  ensured  its 
economic  decay,  and  finally  its  ruin.  For  while  it 
was  highly  desirable  that  religion  should  flourish 
within  the  monastery,  it  was  absolutely  essential  that 
such  a  huge  establishment  should  rest  on  a  sound 
economic  basis  if  it  was  to  continue.  In  the  sixteenth 
century,  or  even  earlier,  this  condition  was  no  longer 
fulfilled.  It  is,  however,  scarcely  a  matter  for  which 
blame  attaches  to  the  House.  The  mediaeval  ideal, 
which  in  one  aspect  was  the  monastic  ideal^  was 
stability,  not  progress.  St.  Albans  was  identical  in 
its  attitude  with  the  other  great  monasteries;  it  was 
neither  more  nor  less  conservative.  Its  inability, 
rather  than  its  refusal,  to  change  or  admit  change 
was  its  condemnation.  Such  a  splendid  immobility 
has  something  of  grandeur  about  it.  At  the  same 
time  the  picture  of  a  town  deprived  of  its  '  natural 
right  of  self-government,'  and  hindered  accordingly 
in  its  prosperity,  and  of  the  mass  of  the  Abbey's 
country  tenants  living  unprosperously  under  an 
antiquated  agricultural  system,  constitutes  a  crush- 
ing argument  for  the  necessity  of  its  dissolution. 

'  It  is  unfortunate  that  the  surveys  of  the  Commissioners  in 
1535  for  Hertford  have  perished.  At  the  same  time  the  condition 
of  monastic  estates  was  wonderfully  similar,  and  St.  Albans  was 
piobably  no  exception. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  47 

(B).     The  Decay  of  the  Monastic  Spirit  in  the 
15th  century. 

The    task    of    interpreting    the    Abbey's    history 
during    the    fifteenth    century    is    difficult    in    the 
extreme.      The    confusion,    the    aimlessness    which 
St  Alb  characterised  political  history  are  re- 

in the  fleeted  in  the  records  of  St.   Albans. 

15       en  ury.    ^j^j^Q^gj^  ^^^  material   is  at  least  as 

plentiful  as  before,  the  impression  conveyed  by  the 
facts  is  blurred  and  uncertain.  With  the  death  of 
De  la  Mare  the  lines  of  development  become 
obscured.  The  fourteenth  century  had  witnessed  a 
steady  upward  movement  culminating  in  the  Abbacy 
of  De  la  Mare.  There  is  a  temptation  to  see  in  the 
fifteenth  century  a  consistent,  growing  degeneracy  : 
the  more  as  it  is  beyond  question  that  by  the  year 
1490  the  Convent  had  sunk  into  deeper  degredation 
than  ever  before.  In  one  sense  such  a  theory  is 
true.  The  tide  of  economic  decline  and  growing 
m.aterial  decrepitude,  stemmed  by  De  la  Mare's 
careful  administration,  proceeded  unchecked  after 
his  death.  Within  the  convent  the  decay  of  the 
monastic  spirit  was  everywhere  apparent.  Living 
became  inevitably  more  luxurious,  and  the  religious 
life  grew  cold  and  formal.^     Yet  the  reputation  of 

'  On  the  other  hand  classical  learning  became  more  esteemed. 
It  is  impossible  not  to  see  in  the  florid  verses  of  Whethamstede  and 
in  his  prose  (loaded  with  classical  allusion  and  metaphor)  an  early 
appearance  of  the  Renaissance  spirit  in  England.  Verse  and 
prose  are  alike  worthless,  but  show  a  striving  after  something 
better  than  mediaeval  monastic  writing.       The  tendency  becomes 

48  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

St.  Albans  was  as  great  in  1460  as  in  the  days 
of  Abbot  Thomas.  Up  to  1464  (the  year  in  which 
Whethamstede  died)  no  flagrant  abuses  appear  to 
have  invaded  the  cloister,  nor  was  there  any  con- 
siderable slackening  of  the  discipline.  The  problem, 
of  which  we  can  offer  no  adequate  solution,  is  to 
account  for  the  extraordinary  rapid  decay  between 
1464  and  1489,  by  which  time  the  Abbey  had  become 
publicly  scandalous.  The  history  of  these  twenty- 
five  years  is  quite  obscure. 

The  first  half  of  the  century  was  singularly  barren 
of  incident.  The  best  known  Abbot  of  the  time  was 
John   Whethamstede   (circa    1420 — 1440),    a   famous 

-,,^   ,  scholar  and  churchman.       Significantly 

Whetham-  °  •' 

stede's  enough  he  was  one  of  those  chosen  to 

acy.    j.gpj.gggjj^    j-j^g    English    nation    at    the 

Councils  of  Pavia  and  Basle.  He  was  popular  with 
the    convent,    perhaps    on    account    of    his    ardent 

orthodoxy.     The  singularly  bitter  attitude  adopted 

towards  Lollards  in  de  la  Mare's  time  was  carefully 

maintained,  and  Whethamstede,  by  means  of  synods 

and    commissions,     extirpated    heresy    within    the 

Liberty.^     The  Abbot  was  regarded  by  the  monks 

more  marked  in  his  work  after  his  visit  to  Italy  in  1423,  where  he 
was  certainly  influenced  by  the  early  Humanist  movement. 

*  The  town  of  St.  Albans  was  apparently  something  of  a  Lol- 
lard centre.  Sir  John  Oldcastle  lay  in  hiding  there,  and  when  in 
1414  William  Murlee  (one  of  his  followers)  was  hanged  and  burnt, 
the  convent  firmly  believed  that  he  had  planned  to  put  them  every 
one  to  death  (Walsingham  :  hist.  Angl.  II,  298-299).  See,  too, 
the  account  of  the  proceedings  at  the  Synod  held  by  Whethamstede 
in  1429  (Amtindesham  I,  222-3)  ■  ^'^^  commission  to  put  down  heresy 
(Amundesham  II,  23).  The  Abbot's  bitterness  extended  to  any 
departure  from  orthodoxy,  and  Pecock  was  an  object  of  his  special 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 


as  having  conferred  notable  benefits  upon  them;  the 
chief  of  these  were  his  acquisition  of  the  Priory  of 
Pembroke  (1439),  his  generosity  to  the  Abbey's 
students  at  Oxford  and  certain  financial  innovations.^ 
To-day,  as  one  digs  him  out  of  the  very  inferior 
chronicle  of  the  time,  he  seems  rather  wanting  in 
purpose,  and  somewhat  vain  and  foolish;  neverthe- 
less, he  certainly  had  the  confidence  of  the  convent, 
who,  after  his  voluntary  retirement  for  some  years 
insisted  upon  re-electing  him  Abbot  in  1452.  The 
reason  was  probably  that  he  was  old,  experienced, 
and  cautious.  At  the  time  these  qualities  were  in- 
valuable; the  Abbey  was  acquiring  a  political  sig- 
nificance, and  skilful  guidance  was  necessary  to 
avoid  disaster  amid  the  intrigues  of  Henry  VI's 
reign,  which  were  threatening  to  culminate  in  Civil 
War.  The  second  abbacy  of  Whethamstede,  within 
which  fell  the  Wars  of  the  Roses,  was  therefore  an 
anxious  and,  as  it  proved,  disastrous  time  for  the 

It  was  maintained  by  Hallam  that  the  sympathies 
of  Abbot  Whethamstede  were  wholly  Lancastrian 
during  the  Wars  of  the  Roses.  Riley,  after  a  more 
careful  study,  affirmed  that  the  reverse  was  the 
case,^  and  without  doubt  he  was  nearer  the  mark 

E.g.  He  instituted  and  endowed  'a  common  chest,'  to  which 
resort  was  to  be  made  only  at  times  of  great  financial  necessity. 
He  also  created  the  office  of  '  Master  of  the  Works,'  to  whom  he 
assigned  regular  funds  with  which  the  Master  was  to  keep  the 
Abbey  buildings  in  repair  and  put  up  new  structures  when 

^  Riley,  for  instance,  thought  it  probable  that  Whethamstede 
was  the  Duke  of  Gloucester's  political  adviser,  and  that  his  resig- 
nation of  the  abbacy  in  1440  was  due  to  the  waning  of  '  Good  Duke 

50  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

than  Hallam.  The  great  affection  consistently  dis- 
played for  Humphrey  Duke  of  Gloucester  (a  lavish 
patron  of  the  Abbey),  and  the  attempt  in  the 
chronicle  to  clear  his  memory,  in  themselves  in- 
dicate with  which  party  the  Abbot's  sympathies  lay. 
Further  proof  is  supplied  by  florid  verses,  strongly 
Yorkist  in  tone,  from  the  Abbot's  own  hand;  and 
finally,  there  is  the  fact  that  the  Abbey  was  pillaged 
by  the  Lancastrian  troops  in  1461.  But  the  question 
is  of  the  slightest  importance.^  As  a  matter  of  fact, 
the  Abbey  enjoyed  the  full  favour  of  Henry  VI.  as 
much  as  of  Edward  IV;  it  was  only  in  the  actual 
fighting  that  its  political  proclivities  affected  its 

Henry  VI  was  a  frequent  visitor  at  St.  Albans, 
and  bestowed,  among  many  other  marks  of  his 
favour,  a  notable  extension  of  the  franchise.  The 
seignorial  jurisdiction  of  the  Abbot  over  the  Hun- 
dred of  Cashio,  which  was  based  on  a  charter  of 
Henry  II,  had  gradually  been  diminished  by  the 
encroachments  of  neighbouring  Lords.  In  1440 
the  King  granted  a  new  interpretation  of  the  words 
of    Henry    II's    Charter,    by    which    the    Abbot's 

Humphrey's  '  popularity  before  the  rising  star  of  Beaufort. 
'  When  .  .  .  the  contending  rivals  had  been  alike  removed  by  the 
impartial  hand  of  death,  we  find  him  emerging  from  his  com- 
paratively obscure  position  as  a  pensioned  monk  of  the  Abbey, 
and  on  the  first  opportunity  attaining  the  Abbacy  once  more  ' 
{Amundesham  II,  liv). 

'  '  His  (Whethamstede's)  counsels,'  says  Riley,  '  seem  to  have 
been  sought  with  equal  eagerness  by  the  two  great  heads  of  the 
antagonistic  parties  of  the  politics  of  the  times,  the  intriguing  and 
ambitious  Henry  Beaufort,  Bishop  of  Winchester,  and  his  .  .  . 
nephew,  the  Duke  of  Gloucester  '  (Amundesham  I,  xv). 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  51 

authority  was  restored  to  its  full  limit,  if  not  ren- 
dered greater  than  ever  before.^  In  order  to  obtain 
such  a  grant  it  is  obvious  that  the  Abbot  must  have 
been  in  high  favour  with  Henry  VI,  who  indeed 
is  always  mentioned  in  these  chronicles  in  terms  of 

Nevertheless,  when  in  1455  the  Yorkist  party 
triumphed  at  the  first  battle  of  St.  Albans,  only  the 
fact  that  the  direction  of  the  Abbey's  sympathies 
was  well  known  can  have  saved  it  from  being 

The    continual     fighting    in     its     neighbourhood 

reduced  the  Abbey  to  dire  straits,  and  the  next  six 

years  were  among  the  darkest  in  its  history.     Its 

troubles  culminated  in  the  disaster  of  1461, 

Second  1  r  t  •  ■ 

Battle  when,  alter  a  Lancastrian  victory  at  the 
Albans  ^econd  battle  of  St.  Albans,  the  Northern 
troops  plundered  the  Abbey  and  horribly 
ravaged  the  surrounding  country.  The  Queen  even 
condescended  to  rob  the  Abbey  of  its  most  precious 
jewels  and  treasures.^  The  result  was  sheer  famine; 
the  convent  were  dispersed,  and  the  Abbot  retired 
to  his  native  town.  Thus  for  the  only  time  in  its 
history  the  continuity  of  conventual  life  at  St.  Albans 
was  broken.  The  final  triumph  of  Edward  IV  in 
the    same   year   ensured    such   amelioration    of    the 

^  Cal.  Pat.  Rolls,  1436-1441,  p.  422. 

^  The  King  is  found  nevertheless  in  1549  spending  Easter  at  the 
Abbey  and  lavishing  gifts  upon  the  Abbot. 

^  Whethamstede  I,  396.  The  St.  Albans  chronicles  make  a 
valuable  contribution  to  political  history  for  the  years  1450-1461. 
For  this  the  coincidence  of  two  decisive  battles  being  fought  at 
St.  Albans  is  responsible. 

52  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

Abbey's  fortunes  as  was  possible.  The  battle  had 
taken  place  in  February,  and  by  November  the 
convent  had  re-assembled,  to  enter  upon  the  last 
stage  of  its  existence  with  a  fresh  grant  of  privi- 
leges. A  complicated  jurisdiction,  which  far  ex- 
ceeded the  grant  of  1440,  was  bestowed  upon  the 
Abbey.  ^ 

The  unsoundness  of  the  Abbey's  economic  practice 
and  the  consequent  increasing  financial  embarrass- 
ment were  at  the  root  of  all  its  troubles  in  the  fif- 
H  stiiit  f  teenth  century.  Its  poverty  weakened 
Bishops  in  its  independence,  and  was  at  once  the 
en  ury.  ^^^^^  q£  ^^iq  decline  of  its  hospitality 
and  the  reason  for  its  growing  obsequiousness 
toward  the  great.  The  bishops  especially  were  quick 
to  realise  the  weakness  of  the  Abbey.'  Always 
jealous  of  exempt  houses,  they  exhibited  in  the 
fifteenth  century  an  unusually  bitter  hostility  to- 
wards St.  Albans.  In  1399,  Henry  Bishop  of  Lin- 
coln had  formally  notified  the  Abbot  that  he  claimed 
no  jurisdiction  over  the  Abbey^;  this  was  nothing 
more  than  an  acknowledgment  of  an  old  and  un- 
doubted privilege  pertaining  to  St.  Albans  as  an 
exempt  monastery.  Only  twenty  years  later,  at  the 
Council  of  Pavia,  a  new  Bishop  of  Lincoln  claimed 
full  jurisdiction  over  St.  Albans,  and  called  for  the 

'  Newcome,  p.  374.  Clutterbuck  :  History  and  Antiquities  of 
the  County  of  Hertford  I,  Appendix  I,  pp.  527-46,  for  a  copy  of 
Edward  IV's  charter. 

^  For  the  growth  of  Episcopal  hatred,  see  Amundesham  I,  p. 
73-82,    142-195,  and  300-408. 

^  Gesta  Abbafum  III,   p.   472. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  53 

reform  of  exempt  houses.  This  was  followed  by 
the  revival  of  the  Archbishop  of  Canterbury's  claims 
to  jurisdiction,  but  these  the  Abbot  was  still  strong 
enough  to  resist.  A  few  years  later  a  dispute  con- 
cerning the  Bishop  of  Norwich's  jurisdiction  over 
the  Cell  of  Binham  broadened  out  into  an  organised 
attack  by  the  English  bishops  upon  the  privileges 
of  St.  Albans.  This  was  evidently  regarded  as  a 
test  case.  Exactly  how  the  struggle  ended  is  not 
recorded,  but  probably  it  left  matters  in  the  old 
uncertain  condition.  These  attempts  mark  a  fresh 
stage  in  the  growing  unpopularity  of  the  Abbey, 
and  it  is  worthy  of  notice  that  the  increasing  hatred 
towards  exempt  houses  on  the  part  of  the  bishops 
might  well  of  itself  have  led  to  the  fall  of  the 
m.onastic  system  in  England.  As  it  was,  the  support 
of  the  bishops  made  it  more  easy  for  Henry  VIII 
to  carry  through  the  Dissolution. 

Even  during  the  fourteenth  century  there  had  been 
a  natural  and  almost  inevitable  growth  of  luxury 
in  the  monastic  life :    in  the  course  of  the  fifteenth 

D    a     f  th        ^^  progressed  by  leaps   and  bounds. 

Monastic  Spirit  A  host  of  insignificant  facts  illustrate 
°  ^^  the  tendency.   The  food  of  the  novices 

was  rendered  more  sumptuous  on  the  plea  that  the 
youths  had  not  such  strong  constitutions  as  their 
fathers.  Papal  Bulls  were  secured  remitting  fasts, 
and  the  allowance  of  spices  was  doubled.  As  with 
the  convent,  so  was  it  with  the  Abbots  themselves. 
William  Heyworth  (1401 — 1420),  who  was  considered 
so   excellent  a   cleric  as  to   be  raised  to   episcopal 

54  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

dignity  as  Bishop  of  Lichfield,  spent  large  sums  of 
money  on  the  completion  of  a  splendid  Abbot's 
mansion  at  Tittenhanger,  contrary,  needless  to  say, 
to  all  Benedictine  precedent.  A  parallel  tendency 
was  a  perceptible  decline  of  zeal  and  interest  in  the 
religious  life.  In  1428,  for  instance,  owing  (as  the 
Abbot  confessed)  to  its  uselessness,  the  ancient  cell 
of  Beaulieu^  was  abandoned,  and  twenty  years  later 
the  Priory  of  Wymondham,  as  the  result  of  a  trifling 
dispute  broke  away  from  the  mother  house,  and  was 
erected  into  an  Abbey.  The  tendency  is  further 
illustrated  by  the  Constitutions  published  by  Whet- 
hamstede  after  a  formal  visitation  of  the  convent.^ 
No  gross  abuses  were  discovered,  but  a  certain 
laziness  and  indifference  towards  religious  services 
and  observance  was  found  to  have  pervaded  the 
convent.  It  was  much  the  same  in  the  cells  which 
the  Abbot  visited  a  little  later.  It  appeared  that 
the  monks  were  lazy,  and  slept  too  long;  just  cor- 
rection for  offences  had  not  always  been  inflicted; 
services  were  apt  to  be  carried  out  indifferently,  and 
sometimes  to  be  omitted  altogether.  It  was  sloth- 
fulness,  not  positive  vice,  that  had  to  be  fought 
against.  A  subtle  illustration  of  this  is  uncon- 
sciously supplied  by  the  chronicler.  The  Abbot  had 
promulgated  a  set  of  rigorous  constitutions  which 
went  to  the  root  of  the  trouble  more  than  was  usual; 
but  the  convent  murmured,  refused  to  accept  them, 
and  finally  carried  their  will  against  the  Abbot;  as 
for   the   Constitutions   they   became   a   dead   letter. 

^  Amundesham  I,  29,  31.  -  Amundesham  I,   loi. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  55 

When  Whethamstede  was  re-elected  in  1452^  he  was 
informed  that  three  great  defects  existed  in  the 
Monastery.  Scarcely  one  in  the  Abbey,  it  appeared, 
could  be  found  competent  to  teach  grammar;  there 
were  hardly  any  students  from  St.  Albans  at  Glou- 
cester Hall;  and  it  was  only  with  difficulty  that 
persons  could  be  found  prepared  to  undertake  the 
burden  of  preaching. 

These  facts  point  to  a  rapid  raising  of  the  standard 
of  comfort,  to  growing  indifference,  and  a  sad  decay 
of  the  monastic  spirit.  But  in  view  of  the  dreadful 
condition  of  the  convent  in  1490  it  is  important  to 
observe  that  they  give  us  no  reason  to  suppose  the 
existence  of  immorality  in  the  cloister  or  even  of 
any  serious  relaxation  of  the  discipline. 

Abbot   Whethamstede's   successor   was   a   certain 
William     Albon     (1464 — 1476),     'who,'     says     the 
chronicler,   '  followed  diligently  in  the  footsteps  of 
his  predecessor.     During  all  the  time  he  was  Abbot 
he  strove  after  the  good  of  his  Church  in  things 
temporal   and   spiritual.'^      His   reign   and   that   of 
William  Wallingford  (1476 — ?i49o)  carry  us  to  the 
year  1490,  when  a  letter  of  Cardinal  Morton  reveals 
the  monastery  in  a  state  of  utter  degradation.     The 
decay   must   be   placed   entirely   between   the   years 
Abbot        ^476    and    1490,    and    it    is    impossible    to 
Walling-    account  for  its  rapidity.       Perhaps  it  was 
due  to  the  bad  influence  of  William  Wal- 
lingford, but  the  whole  matter  is  not  a  little  mys- 
terious.    In  1451  Wallingford  is  found  holding  the 

'   Whethamstede  I,  p.   25.  -   Whethamstede  I.  p.  475. 

56  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

joint  offices  of  Archdeacon,  Cellarer,  Bursar,  Forester 
and  Sub-Cellarer  of  the  Abbey,  and  in  some  of  these 
ofBces  he  was  continued  during  Whethamstede's 
second  abbacy  (1452 — 1464).  During  this  same 
period  he  was  to  all  intents  and  purposes  convicted 
of  having  laid  hands  upon  the  moneys  of  the 
previous  Abbot.  The  matter  is  dealt  with  at  length 
in  the  chronicle,  and  in  most  violent  terms  Walling- 
ford  is  accused  again  and  again  of  habitual  perjury.^ 
Yet  on  the  death  of  Whethamstede  he  was  elected 
prior,  and  in  1476  Abbot."  Finally,  in  an  account 
of  The  Lives  and  Benefactions  of  the  Later  Abbots^ 
he  is  spoken  of  in  terms  of  the  most  extravagant 
praise.  On  the  whole  the  general  impression  of  this 
difficult  character  derived  from  the  Chronicle  is  that 
of  a  bad  man  but  a  vigorous  Abbot,  who,  however 
evil  his  influence  upon  the  convent,  nevertheless 
rendered  it  important  services.  The  monks,  perhaps, 
forgot  his  vices  in  their  admiration  of  what  was  to 
them  the  first  of  virtues — his  strenuous  efforts  to 
preserve  the  independence  of  the  house.  For  it 
was  during  his  rule  that  the  most  determined, 
and,  as  it  proved,  successful  attacks  were  made  upon 
the  Abbey's  highly-prized  exemption  from  archi- 
episcopal  visitation. 

'    Whethamstede  I,  XV. 

*  It  is  a  curious  circumstance  that  the  folio  containing  the  ac- 
count of  his  election  has  been  torn  out  of  the  register. 

^  MS.  Cotton  :  Nero  D.  VII  (British  Museum),  folios  25A-48A. 
Whethamstede  I,  451.  A  different  MS.  from  that  of  his  Register 
{viz.  MS.  Arundel  III,  College  of  Arms),  which  contains  the  charges 
against  him. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  57 

In  the  register  of  Wallingford's  abbacy  there  is 
only  one  indication  of  the  bad  turn  conventual  life 
was  taking.  This  is  the  record  of  an  enormous 
traffic  in  patronage,  a  new  and  bad 
Pa^ronige.  feature  at  St.  Albans,  confined  for  the 
most  part  to  Wallingford's  abbacy.^ 
Economically  bankrupt,  the  Monastery  was  reduced 
at  last  to  bartering  the  livings  in  its  gift,  and  even 
to  trafficking  in  the  monastic  offices.^  In  the  register 
of  WilHam  Wallingford  there  is  a  long  Hst  of  entries 
noting  the  gift  by  the  Abbot  to  all  sorts  of  im- 
portant persons  of  the  right  to  present  to  the  next 
vacancy  in  many  of  the  Abbey's  livings.  These 
transactions,  whether  accompanied  by  a  money  con- 
sideration or  simply  to  gain  the  support  and  protec- 
tion of  persons  of  high  rank,  indicate  a  willingness 
on  the  part  of  the  Abbot  to  trifle  with  some  of  his 
most  sacred  responsibilities.  More  sinister  still  are 
the  frequent  changes  of  the  vicars  in  the  various 
livings.  At  Elstree,  for  example,  there  were  as 
many  as  nine  rectors  in  sixteen  years;  at  Shephale 
five  occur  in  six  years. ^ 

The  case  of  St.  Albans  may  have  been  exceptional. 
In  the  general  decay  of  English  monasticism  the 
Abbey  incurred  an  unenviable  notoriety,  which 
indeed  still  clings  to  it.     But  that  the  English  monas- 

*  There  are  a  few  instances,  however,  during  Albon's  rule. 

'  E.g.  Office  of  Seneschal  of  the  Liberty  bestowed  upon  several 
prominent  political  figures  between  1474  and  1482  (see  Whetham- 
stede  II,  xxx). 

^  Whethamstede  II,  xxxii.  Riley  has  examined  such  cases  in 
detail.  It  appears  that  even  his  right  of  presentation  of  a  Prior 
to  the  Cell  of  Tynemouth  was  alienated  by  Wallingford. 

SS  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

teries  as  a  body  were  in  a  depraved  condition  was 

fully  realised  by  the  heads  of  Church  and  State.     In 

1490    Archbishop    Morton    applied    for 

Commision.  ^^^  received  from  Innocent  VIII  the 
special  powers  necessary  for  a  visita- 
tion of  Cluniac,  Cistercian  and  Premonstratension 
Houses  with  foreign  heads. ^  Armed  with  the  Papal 
commission  Morton  wrote  letters  to  the  heads  of 
the  various  monasteries,  in  which  he  imperatively 
called  upon  them  to  reform. 

In  a  letter  which  he  addressed  to  the  Abbot, 
Morton  wrote^ :  '  It  has  come  to  our  ears,  being  at 
once  publicly  notorious  and  brought  before  us  on 
the  testimony  of  many  witnesses  worthy  of  credit, 
that  you  the  Abbot  aforementioned  have  been  of 
long  time  noted  and  diffamed,  and  do  yet  continue 
so  noted,  of  simony,  of  usury,  of  dilapidation  and 
waste  of  goods,  revenues  and  possessions  of  the  said 
monastery  and  of  certain  other  enormous  crimes 
and  excesses  hereafter  written  .  .  .  You  and  certain 
of  your  fellow  monks  and  brethren  .  .  .  have  relaxed 
the  measure  and  form  of  religious  life;  you  have 

'  E.H.R.  xxiv.  319-321  :  the  Bull  was  promulgated  in  March, 
1490.  Mr.  James  Gairdner  believes  the  curious  omission  in  the 
Bull  of  any  mention  of  Benedictine  Houses  due  to  the  fact  that 
there  were  so  few  exempt  in  England.  More  probably,  I  think, 
the  omission  was  due  to  the  Pope's  unwillingness  to  reverse  a  brief 
he  had  issued  less  than  two  months  previously.  In  February, 
1490,  at  the  solicitation  of  Abbot  Wallingford,  Innocent  Vltl 
had  addressed  a  brief  to  the  Archbishop  bidding  him  defend  St. 
Albans  against  all  attacks  as  an  exempt  House.  Evidently  Wal- 
lingford had  an  inkling  of  the  impending  reform  and  strove  to 
anticipate  Morton. 

^    Wilkins  Concilia  III,  p.  632  ;  the  translation  is  from  Froude. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  59 

laid  aside  the  pleasant  yoke  of  contemplation  and 
all  regular  observances,  hospitality,  alms^  .  .  .  and 
the  ancient  rule  of  your  order  is  deserted  .  .  .  you 
have  dilapidated  the  common  property;  you  have 
made  away  with  the  jewels  and  the  woods  to  the 
value  of  8,000  marks  or  more.'  The  letter  goes 
on  to  specify  '  the  enormous  crimes  and  excesses  ' 
in  a  most  complete  manner;  names  and  details  are 
given  in  every  case,  and  the  Abbot  and  Thomas 
Sudbury,  a  monk,  are  accused  of  the  most  disgusting 
offences.  The  nunneries  of  Prez  and  Sopwell — cells 
of  the  Abbey — are  stated  to  be  little  better  than 
brothels.  '  The  brethren  of  the  Abbey,  some  of 
whom,  as  it  is  reported,  are  given  over  to  all  the 
evil  things  of  the  world,  neglect  the  service  of  God 
altogether.  They  live  with  harlots  and  mistresses 
publicly  and  continuously  within  the  precincts  of  the 
monastery  and  without.' 

The  Archbishop  adds  that  he  had  warned  the 
Abbot  to  cure  these  abuses  before  securing  the 
papal  commission.  The  Abbot  and  the  Prioresses 
of  Prez  and  Sopwell  are  strictly  enjoined  to  correct 
these  enormities  within  thirty  days,  and  the  Priors 
of  the  more  distant  cells  within  sixty  days.  Unless 
they  comply  the  Archbishop  himself  will  be  com- 
pelled to  make  a  personal  visitation  and  to  carry 
out  the  necessary  reforms. 

^  In  1484  Wallingford  formally  allowed  Thomas  Hethnes,  keeper 
of  the  George  Inn,  to  have  a  chapel  for  the  celebration  of  the  Mass 
by  the  Chaplains  of  '  such  great  men  and  nobles  and  others  as 
should  be  lodging  at  this  hostelry  '  (Whethamstede  II,  xxxiii  ;  also 
p.  269),  a  clear  indication  of  the  decline  of  the  one-time  famous 

6o  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

The  Abbot,  making  no  attempt  to  answer  the 
charges,  instantly  appealed  to  the  Pope  against  the 
authority  of  the  Archbishop  to  hold  a  visitation.^ 
The  Pope  consented  to  prohibit  any  action  on 
Morton's  part  pending  the  hearing  of  the  appeal  by 
two  papal  chaplains.  Abbot  Wallingford  must  now 
have  won  his  case  but  for  the  intervention  of 
Henry  VH.  The  combined  pleadings  of  King  and 
Archbishop  prevailed  with  the  Pope.  On  July  30th, 
1490,  Innocent  VIII,  without  pronouncing  on  the 
question  of  exemption,  granted  special  faculties  to 
the  Archbishop  for  this  particular  visitation  not- 
withstanding all  rights  and  privileges.  And  there 
can  be  little  doubt  but  that  the  visitation  was  in  due 
course  carried  out.-  Whether  all  these  charges 
were  substantiated  we  do  not  know;  but  it  is  im- 
possible to  doubt  that  the  bulk  of  them  was  true. 
St.  Albans  was  too  large,  too  famous  a  house,  and 
too  near  London,  for  Morton  to  have  been  misled 
by  idle  rumour.  The  outcome  of  Morton's  letter 
is  unrecorded;  probably  the  reforms  were  effected, 
though  the  Abbot,  it  would  appear,  was  not  deposed. 

'  The  history  of  these  transactions  is  taken  from  an  article  by 
Mr.  Gairdner  (E.H.R.  x.xiv.  319-321)  based  upon  Abbot  Gasquet's 
researches  in  the  Papal  archives. 

Mr.  Gairdner  gives  it  as  his  opinion  that  the  visitation  was 
not  carried  out  (see  Lollardy  and  the  Reformation,  Vol.  i,  pp.  269- 
272,  Vol.  Ill,  p.  xxxi).  He  bases  his  view  on  a  passage  in  the 
St.  Albans  obit  book  ( Whethamstede  I,  p.  478),  recording  a  victory 
of  Wallingford  over  the  Archbishop.  This  passage,  it  appears 
from  what  follows,  was  written  not  later  than  1484  (see  Whet- 
hamstede I,  p.  479),  the  convent  solemnly  affixing  its  seal  to  the 
narrative  under  the  date  '  anno  domini  millesimo  quadringentesimo 
octogesimo  quarto,  die,  videlicet,  mensis  Augusti  octava. '  Pro- 
bably therefore  the  account  refers  to  an  earlier  and  unsuccessful 
attempt  of  the  Archbishop  to  carry  out  a  visitation  (see  Appendix). 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  6i 

It  is  in  the  Abbey's  favour  that  no  further  trace  of 
immorality  is  to  be  found  in  the  history  of  the  fifty 
years  of  Hfe  which  lay  before  it. 

It  seems  strange  that  the  Abbey  should  have  gone 

on  after  this  shock  without  a  suspicion  of  coming 

destruction.     Such,  however,  was  the  case;  and  even 

Henry    VII    is    found    to    endow    the 

ilsa—iz^g.  rnonastery  in  return  for  certain  prayers 
for  his  soul  to  be  rendered  '  for  ever 
and  ever.'  As  late  as  1530,  indeed,  there  is  men- 
tion of  a  grant  to  the  Abbey  of  an  annual  fair.  Of 
these  last  years  a  wealth  of  detail  has  survived,  albeit 
in  unlikely  places.  In  151 1  the  House  had  fallen 
into  the  King's  debt;  in  1515  Abbot  Ramrygge, 
Wallingford's  successor,  refused  to  pay  Peter 
Pence,  ^  and  in  15 19  the  Prior  of  Rochester  was 
appointed  coadjutor  to  the  old  Abbot. ^  Monastic 
affairs,  it  appears,  were  in  complete  disorder,  and  a 
large  debt  (4,000  marks)  had  been  accumulated.  In 
the  same  year  the  Prior  of  Tynemouth  was  freed 
from  the  jurisdiction  of  St.  Albans,^  a  measure 
which  illustrates  the  enfeebled  condition  of  the 

The  first  hint  of  the  final  catastrophe  occurred 
upon  the  death  of  Ramrygge  in  1521.  By  a  dis- 
pensation of  Adrian  VI,  Wolsey  was  commended 
to    the    vacant    abbacy,*    the    convent    apparently 

'  Letters  and  Papers  I,  No.   71. 

^  Letters  and  Papers,  1519,  No.  487. 

^  Letters  and  Papers,  1519,  No.  510. 

'  Letters  and  Papers,  1521,  No.  1843. 

62  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

allowing  this  infringement  of  its  rights  without 
protest.  Perhaps,  as  Abbot  Gasquet  has  said,  the 
motive  for  this  action  was  in  part  a  desire  to  reward 
the  cardinal  for  secular  services.  If  so,  it  was  a 
poor  compliment  to  Wolsey  to  receive  an  abbey  so 
loaded  with  debt  as  to  be  unable  to  pay  its  con- 
tribution to  Convocation.^  It  is  far  more  likely  that 
he  secured  it,  knowing  that  the  House  was  bankrupt, 
and  that  strong  measures  were  required  to  save  it.^ 

The  death  of  Wolsey  necessitated  a  fresh  election. 
No  interference  was  attempted  by  Henry  VIII,  who 
confirmed  the  convent's  choice  in  the  person  of 
Robert  Catton.  It  was  during  his  abbacy  the 
Visitation  of  the  monasteries  was  carried  out. 

Owing  to  the  disappearance  of  the  Hertfordshire 

surveys,  St.  Albans  can  furnish  no  certain  evidence 

upon   the   numerous   questions   arising    out   of   the 

c    .  ,  T       Dissolution.^     Such  facts  as  we  have  tend 

Social  In- 
fluence of    to  confirm  the  conclusions  of  M.  Savine.^ 

^'  There  is  no  doubt,  for  example,  that  the 

social  sympathies  of  the  Abbey  were  pre-eminently 

aristocratic.     Most  of  the  monks  do  not  themselves 

^  Letters  and  Papers,  1523,  No.  3239. 

^  Gasquet  :  Henry  VIII  and  the  English  Monasteries,  p.  27 ;  the 
appropriation  of  the  revenues  of  Prez  and  Tenby  to  his  colleges 
at  Oxford  and  Ipswich  is  natural ;  the  revenues  of  the  suppressed 
houses  were  too  small  to  have  been  of  any  real  assistance  to  St. 

^  Savine  :  English  Monasteries  on  the  Eve  of  the  Dissolution, 
p.  24  (Oxford  Studies  in  Social  and  Legal  History).  The  surveys 
of  six  counties  are  missing  from  Valor  Ecclesiasticus. 

^  Ibid,  pp.  263-267.  Cf.  His  conclusion  that  the  monks  main- 
tained a  population  not  more  than  four  times  their  own  number. 
Abbot  Gasquet  had  stated  it  to  be  at  least  ten  times  as  great. 
Cf.,  too,  Hibbert's  The  Dissolution  of  the  Monasteries,  p.  210. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  63 

appear  to  have  come  from  the  lower  strata  of  society. 
The  Abbey  bestowed  its  corrodies  for  the  most  part 
upon  persons  of  the  well-to-do  classes.  Moreover, 
a  close  connection  existed  between  the  Abbey  and 
the  neighbouring  gentry,  whose  sons  it  had  long 
been  wont  to  board  and  educate.  On  members  of 
the  same  class  many  of  the  lay  offices  of  the  monas- 
tery were  conferred.^  Even  the  apparently  demo- 
cratic practice  of  alms-giving  was  a  perfunctory 
duty,  a  mere  compliance  with  the  wishes  of  donors 
who  had  in  times  past  liberally  endowed  the  Abbey. 
At  a  wealthy  House  like  St.  Albans,  which  relied 
so  completely  on  the  patronage  of  the  great,  it 
could  scarcely  have  been  otherwise. 

In  fact,  evidence  compels  us  to  reduce  the 
generally  accepted  estimates  of  the  Abbey's  social 
and  economic  importance.  Such  social  services  as  it 
did  render  were  chiefly  on  the  side  of  hospitality 
and  education.  Of  these,  hospitality- — which  had 
always  been  at  least  as  aristocratic  as  otherwise — 
had  seriously  diminished  by  the  sixteenth  century.^ 
Nevertheless,  after  the  Dissolution  this  common 
shelter  for  rich  and  poor  must  have  been  deeply 

The  Abbey  perhaps  did  its  best  work  in  the  sphere 

^  E.g.    Whethamstede  II,  xxxi. 

^  Cf.  Morton's  letter  to  the  Abbot,  1490.  Whethamstede  II, 

^  Cf.  Morton's  letter  to  the  Abbot,  1485  (Whethamstede  II, 

■*  Cf.  Robert  Aske's  remarks  in  1536  with  regard  to  the  blessings 
the  abbeys  conferred  upon  the  '  poor  commons  '  (Gasquet's  Henry 
VIII  and  the  English  Monasteries,  p.  225). 

64  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

of  education;  from  first  to  last  during  our  period 
particular  care  was  expended  upon  the  education  of 
the  monks,  within  the  monastery  and  at  the 
tion.^^"  University.  The  Abbey  deserves  still 
greater  credit  for  creating  and  maintaining 
St.  Albans  Grammar  School.  The  first  mention  of 
the  School  occurs  in  iioo,  when  it  was  ruled  by  a 
secular  head  master  and  received  fees  from  scholars. 
In  the  thirteenth  century  arose  the  practice  of  board- 
ing within  the  monastery  and  teaching  the  sons  of 
neighbouring  lords;  for  the  future  no  fees  were  to 
be  received  from  the  sixteen  poorest  scholars;  the 
master  was  given  the  rare  privilege  of  excom- 
municating the  disobedient,  and  allowed,  after  an 
examination,  to  confer  degrees  upon  the  scholars 
after  the  manner  of  the  Universities.  All  illicit  or 
adulterine  schools  were  to  be  rooted  out  of  the 
Liberty.  Towards  the  end  of  the  century  the  Abbey 
began  to  board  and  educate  a  number  of  poor 
scholars;  this  custom,  as  a  charity,  fell  to  the 
Almoner,  who  soon  devolved  his  duties  upon  a  Ser- 
jeant, who,  like  the  schoolmaster,  was  not  a  monk. 
The  school  was  thus  in  no  sense  '  an  avenue  to  the 
monastery  ' ;  on  the  contrary,  there  was  an  entire 
separation  of  the  school  from  the  Abbey.  It  was, 
perhaps,  for  this  reason  that  the  institution  flourished 
(when  the  Abbey  itself  was  in  decay^  till,  by  a  wide 

^  The  printing  press  generally  said  to  have  existed  within  the 
Abbey  was  probably  set  up  in  the  town  by  an  anonymous  master 
of  the  Grammar  School  about  1480.  See  an  elaborate  article  in 
the  Victoria  History  of  English  Counties  (Hertford),  Vol.  11,  pp. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  65 

interpretation  of  terms,  it  was  dissolved  in  1539 
as  a  part  of  the  Abbey.  This  continuous  interest 
in  secular  education  for  four  centuries  was  perhaps 
the  best  word  that  could  be  said  for  the  Abbey  at 
the  Dissolution.^ 

The  Visitation  of  the  monasteries  was  carried  out 
by  Cromwell,  as  Vicar-General,  in  1535.^  John  ap 
Rice,  the  commissioner  at  St.  Albans,  wrote  to  his 
master :  '  At  St.  Albans  we  found  little  although 
there  was  much  to  be  found.'''  The  commissioner 
spoke  the  simple  truth  if  it  was  disorder  and  faction 
to  which  he  referred.  In  the  same  year  the  prior 
and  about  half  of  the  monks  petitioned  Sir  Francis 
Brian*  to  save  them  from  their  own  Abbot,  who 
had  contracted  large  debts,  had  sold  the  woods 
belonging  to  the  convent,  and  had  compelled  the 
convent  to  affix  their  seal  to  transactions  of  which 
they  disapproved,  threatening  to  expel  anyone  who 
should  inform  against  him.  Within  a  year  there 
was  civil  war  within  the  Abbey,  and  the  same  sec- 
tion of  the  convent  wrote  a  second  desperate  appeal 

*  The  school  was  refounded  1549 ;  probably  it  never  ceased 
actually  to  exist. 

^  Already  in  1528  Wolsey  had  suppressed  a  number  of  the 
smaller  monasteries,  among  them  the  nunnery  of  St.  Mary  de 
Prez  (on  the  ground  that  the  inmates  did  not  preserve  good  dis- 
cipline) and  the  cell  of  Pembroke. 

^  Adding  '  It  were  well  to  suppress  the  nunnery  of  Sop  well  as  you 
may  see  by  the  comperts  '  (Letters  and  Papers,  1535,  No.  661). 
The  state  of  affairs  would  thus  really  seem  to  have  been  worse 
in  the  smaller  houses  than  at  St.  Albans  ;  but  of  Binham,  on  the 
other  hand,  there  is  direct  evidence  that,  except  that  its  numbers 
had  grown  smaller,  it  was  in  good  condition  (Letters  and  Papers. 
1534.  No.  574). 

*  Letters  and  Papers,   1535,  No.   1155. 

66  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

to  Sir  Brian,  saying  that  the  Abbot  would  surely 
take  vengeance  upon  them  unless  Sir  Brian  secured 
the  appointment  of  a  coadjutor.^  '  Our  monastery 
is  in  much  decay  and  misery,'  they  confess  sadly, 
and  their  words  obtain  confirmation  from  another 
extraordinary  incident  of  that  year,  the  trial  of  the 
third  Prior  for  making  various  treasonable  remarks, 
as  for  example,  that  the  King  intended  to  leave  only 
four  churches  in  England.  Other  monks  of  the 
Abbey  had  informed  against  him  to  '  avoid  guilty 
participation.'  The  result  was  indecisive,  but  the 
whole  matter  is  an  indication  of  the  complete 
demoralisation  of  the  convent.^ 

By  this  time  it  was  becoming  known  to  the  world 
that  St.  Albans  must  fall.^  Robert  Catton  was 
deprived  of  the  Abbacy  in  the  early  days  of  1538. 
The  convent  was  induced  to  renounce  its  right  to 
elect  a  successor  in  favour  of  Thomas  Cromwell, 
who  appointed  a  certain  Richard  Boreman  (or 
Stevynache)  to  the  vacancy.  According  to  Abbot 
Gasquet,  Boreman  was  chosen  simply  to  effect  a 
voluntary  surrender  of  the  Abbey,  and  it  certainly 
is  true  that  in  December,  1537,  Cromwell's  commis- 
sioners had  tried  in  vain  to  induce  Catton  to  resign 
the  Abbey  into  their  hands.  He  had  declared  him- 
self ready,  they  wrote  to  Cromwell,  '  to  beg  his 
bread  all  the  days  of  his  life  rather  than  surrender, 
although   by  the  confession   of  the   Abbot  himself 

^  Letters  and  Papers,   1536,   No.   642. 
^  Letters  and  Papers,   1536,   No.   354. 
"  Letters  and  Papers,   1537,   No.    1209. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  67 

there  is  just  cause  of  deprivation,  not  only  for 
breaking  the  King's  injunctions,  but  also  for  the 
manifest  dilapidation,  making  of  shifts,  negligent 
administration,  and  sundry  other  causes.'^  It  seems 
plain,  in  fact,  that  Catton's  deprivation  was  in  large 
part  due  to  his  own  misdeeds,"  a  conclusion  which 
is  supported  by  the  fact  that  Boreman  himself  was 
soon  involved  in  difificulties  with  the  Government 
which  appointed  him.  He  was  sent  for  a  time  to 
gaol,  which  is  difficult  of  explanation  on  the  assump- 
tion that  he  was  a  Government  tool  appointed  only 
to  effect  a  quiet  surrender.  Eventually  the  Act  of 
Surrender  was  signed  on  December  5th,  1539.  Some 
forty  signatures  were  appended,  indicating  a  de- 
crease of  one-third  in  the  normal  numbers  of  the 
convent.^  The  net  monastic  income  was  estimated 
at  £2,102,  the  fourth  highest  in  the  Kingdom.*  It 
only  remained  to  divide  the  spoils,  which  was  done 
with  astonishing  quickness.  By  the  year  1544  every 
acre  of  the  St.  Albans  estates  was  disposed  of.  The 
Abbey  buildings  were  acquired  by  the  townsmen 
(and  so  saved  from  destruction)  at  a  cost  of  £400. 
The  history  of  St.  Albans  is  sufficient  proof  that 

^  Monasticon  II,  p.  207. 

^  From  one  of  his  letters  to  Cromwell  it  would  appear  that  as 
early  as  January,  1536,  Catton  felt  his  position  insecure  owing  to 
the  complaints  of  his  own  monks.  '  Trusts  greatly  to  Cromwell 
his  position  here  being  so  intrikyd  with  extreme  penury  .  .  .  and 
most  of  all  encumbered  with  an  uncourteous  flock  of  brethren  ' 
(Letters  and  Papers,  1536,  No.   152). 

^  The  average  decline  in  numbers  has  been  calculated  by  Savine 
as  one-fifth  ;  so  the  proportion  at  St.  Albans  was  high. 

The  three  greater  were  :    Canterbury   0^2,423}  ;   Westminster 
(£2Aog) ;  and  Glastonbury  (;^3,3ii)  (Savine  Appendix,  p.  270-288). 

68  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

the  time  is  past  when  we  can  rest  content  with 
generahsations  about  monasticism  in  the  later  Middle 
Ages.  During  the  fourteenth  century  the  trend  of 
events  in  the  Abbey  was  entirely  contrary  to  that 
in  most  English  Houses.  While  they  decayed,  St. 
Albans  revived.  A  century  later  it  is  probable  that 
the  monasteries  as  a  whole  were  in  a  far  less  de- 
graded condition  than  St.  Albans.  Perhaps  similarly 
startling  differences  will  be  revealed  when  the  his- 
tory of  other  abbeys  has  been  worked  out  in  detail. 
Many  loose  generalisations  on  the  subject  of  the 
monasteries  are  due  to  the  assumption  that  decay 
or  reform  proceeded  at  an  equal  pace  in  different 
abbeys.  Froude,  for  example,  sought  to  trace  a 
growing  corruption  of  monasticism  from  Norman 
times.  His  view  was  founded  simply  on  his  study 
of  St.  Albans  records,  and  even  here  his  account 
was  worthless.  The  decadence,  the  immorality  of 
which  he  spoke  was  largely  confined  to  the  early 
years  of  the  fourteenth  century,  and  the  Abbacy  of 
William  WalHngford  (1476 — 1490).  To  see  in  the 
fourteenth  and  fifteenth  centuries  a  consistent, 
uniform  process  of  decay  is  largely  to  misunderstand 
St.  Albans'  history. 

It  is  true,  nevertheless,  that  the  best  days  of  the 
Abbey  were  already  past  at  the  beginning  of  the 
fourteenth  century.  The  evolution  of  modern  from 
mediaeval  society,  which  was  effected  during  our 
period,  was  fatal  to  monasticism.  The  country  grew 
more  and  more  out  of  sympathy  with  the  monas- 
teries; amid  uncongenial  surroundings,  St.  Albans, 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  69 

in  common  with  other  abbeys,  became  increasingly 
unpopular.  By  its  unintelligent  conservatism  St. 
Albans  alienated  the  sympathies  of  section  after 
section  of  the  community,  until  at  the  Dissolution  it 
stood  well-nigh  in  isolation.  Recent  defence  of  the 
monastic  system  has  failed  as  completely  as  Froude's 
indictment.  In  the  Dissolution  of  St.  Albans  we 
may  not,  like  Froude,  '  see  the  workings  of  the 
ineffable  Being,'  but  we  are  no  less  unable  to  regret 
it,  to  look  upon  it  as  a  great  social  calamity. 


THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  73 

Appendix  : 

See  Note  S,  p.  60. 

The  account  of  William  Wallingford's  abbacy 
in  the  Lives  and  Benefactions^  .  .  .'is  inconsistent 
with  all  that  is  known  of  him  from  other  sources. 
The  Abbot  is  described  in  a  tone  of  excessive 
admiration  which  cannot  be  reconciled  with  the 
account  of  him  supplied  by  Morton's  letter.  In  the 
Lives  and  Benefactions  .  .  .,  for  instance,  he  is 
stated  to  have  left  the  Monastery  entirely  free  of 
debt.  This  is  not  only  intrinsically  improbable,  but 
is  directly  contradicted  by  Morton's  statement. 
Again,  it  is  difficult  to  imagine  any  adequate  reason 
why  the  convent  should  solemnly  fix  its  seal  as  a 
testimony  to  the  proof  of  the  narrative,  especially 
when  the  Abbot  was,  as  it  seems,  still  living.  In- 
deed, considered  apart  from  other  evidence,  this  last 
passage,  without  explicitly  stating  it,  distinctly 
implies  that  Wallingford  did  die  in  1484.  Doubtless 
the  error  of  Newcome  (followed  by  the  editors  of 
Dugdale's  Monasticon),  who  states  that  Wallingford 
died  in  1484,  is  to  be  explained  in  this  way. 

It  may  be  well,  therefore,  to  repeat  that  the  folio 
of  the  Register  containing  the  account  of  Walling- 

^    Whethamstede  I,  p.  475-479. 

74  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

ford's  election  is  missing,  having  been  apparently 
torn  from  the  MS.;  that  he  had  been  convicted  of 
appropriating  Abbot  Stoke's  treasure  in  1451 ;  that 
in  the  '  Register  of  John  Whethamstede  '  he  is  con- 
tinually mentioned  in  terms  of  extreme  disgust;  and 
finally,  that  the  Register  of  his  own  abbacy  breaks 
off  abruptly  the  year  before  Morton's  Commission. 

In  view  of  these  facts  we  must  regard  the  story 
of  his  abbacy,  as  told  in  the  Lives  and  Benefactions, 
with  extreme  mistrust.  It  is  not  improbable  that 
this  account  was  written  by  a  convent  fearful  of 
offending  a  tyrannical  Abbot;  it  is  by  no  means 
impossible  that  the  Abbot  himself  caused  the  narra- 
tive to  be  written  as  an  answer  to  the  charges 
contained  in  Morton's  letter. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 



FROM    1 29 1    TO    1539. 

John  de  Berkhamstede 

1291 — 


John  de  Maryns          _        _        _ 



Hugh  de  Eversdon      -        -        - 



Richard  de  Wallingford 



Michael  de  Mentmore 



Thomas  Mare    - 



John  Moote         -        _        _        . 



William  Heyworth      _        -        - 

1401 — 


John  Whethamstede    - 

1420 — 


John  Stoke           -        -        .        _ 



John  Whethamstede  (2)     - 



William  Albon     -        -        -        - 



William  Wallingford  - 



John  Ramrygge  -        -        -        - 


1 521. 

Thomas  Wolsey  -        -        -        - 



Robert  Catton     -        -        -        - 



Richard    Boreman    (Stevynache) 



76  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

Chief  Authorities. 

A. — Primary  [printed]. 

Gesta  Abbatum  Monasterii  St.  Albani.     3  vols.     Ed. 

H.  T.  Riley.     Rolls  Series. 
Historia  Anglicana:  Thomas  Walsinghani.     2  vols. 

Ed.  H.  T.  Riley.     Rolls  Series. 
Johannis  de  Trokelowe  et  H.  de  Blancforde  Chronica 

et  Annales.     Ed.  H.  T.  Riley.     Rolls  Series. 
Chronicon  Angliae.     Ed.  E.  M.  Thompson.     Rolls 

John  Amundesham:  Annales  Monasterii  S.  Albani. 

2  vols.     Ed.  H.  T.  Riley.     Rolls  Series. 
Registrum    Abbatiae    Johannis     Whethamstede.      2 

vols.     Ed.  H.  T.  Riley.     Rolls  Scries. 
Calendar  of  the  Patent  Rolls  (from  the  beginning  of 

the  period  up  to  1485). 
Calendar  of  the  Close  Rolls  (from  the  beginning  of 

the  period  up  to  1364). 
Calendar   of  Papal    Registers:   Papal    Letters   and 

Papal  Petitions. 
Calendar:  Letters  and  Papers  Foreign  and  Domestic. 

Ed.  Brev^rer  and  Gairdner.     1509 — 1545. 
Wilkins :  Concilia  Magnae  Britanniae  et  Hiberniae. 

Vol.  III. 
Monasticon:  Dugdale.     Vol.11.     1819. 
Catalogue :    Materials    for    British    History.      Ed. 

Duffus  Hardy.     Vol.  III.     Rolls  Series. 

THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS.  77 

B. — Secondary. 

The  History  and  Antiquities  of  the  County  of  Hert- 
ford.    Robert    Clutterbuck.     3   vols.     London. 

History  of  Hertfordshire.     J.  E.  Cussans.     3  vols. 

Historical  Antiquities  of  Hertford.    Henry  Chauncey. 

The  History   of  the   Abbey   of  St.    Albans.     Peter 

Newcome.     1795. 
History  of  the  Monastery  of  Tynemouth.     W.   S. 

Gibson.     2  vols.     1846-7. 
The    Victoria    History    of    the    English    Counties. 

Hertford.     Vol.  H. 
Constitutional  History.     Stubbs.     Vol.  H.     1906. 
Le  Soulevement   des  Travailleurs   d'Angleterre   en 

1 38 1   par  Andre   Reville.     Ed.    Petit    Dutaillis. 

Paris,  1898. 
John  of  Gaunt.     Armitage  Smith.     1904. 
An  Essay   on  English  Municipal  History.     James 

Thompson.     1867. 
Oxford  Studies  in  Social  and  Legal  History.     Ed. 

Vinogradoff.     I. — The  English  Monasteries  on 

the  Eve  of  Dissolution.     Savine. 
Henry  VUI  and,  the  English  Monasteries.     Gasquet. 

Short  Studies:  Third  Series.    J.  A.  Froude.     1877. 

'  Annals  of  an  English  Abbey.' 

78  THE    ABBEY    OF    ST.    ALBANS. 

Lollardy    and    the    Reformation.      3    vols.      James 

Gairdner.     1908 — 191 1. 
History  of  England.    Froude.    Vol.11.     1877. 
The  English  Historical  Review  (E.H.R.),  Vol.  xxiv. 

Among  these  authorities  the  material  is  derived 
primarily  from  Gesta  Abbatum,  Vols  11  and  iii, 
Annals  of  John  Amundesham,  and  Register  of  John 
Whethamstede,  1422 — 1488.  Where  no  authority  is 
given  for  a  statement  it  is  from  one  of  these 
volumes.  Reference  to  these  for  every  fact  cited 
would  have  unduly  encumbered  the  essay  with 



MAR    51S93